ELKTON — An Elkton man received a maximum 55 years in prison sentences on Tuesday for convictions relating to the January death of his 4-year-old son, whom he had drugged with prescription sedatives and antidepressants almost daily for two years to help him sleep.
“It boggles the court’s mind how people do things to children ... It’s sickening, what took place in this particular case,” Cecil County Circuit Court Administrative Judge Keith A. Baynes commented from the bench.
Baynes imposed a 40-year sentence on the defendant, Bryan E. Foster, 38, for child abuse resulting in death — a conviction relating to Foster’s deceased son, Ayden Foster, a special needs child, who, according to courtroom statements given Tuesday by surviving relatives, was a “bright, sweet and loving” child with a “love for all things Spiderman.”
Ayden Foster died at Union Hospital in Elkton on Jan. 21, after Foster had carried the child there from their nearby apartment in the 100 block of West Main Street because the youngster was convulsing, prosecutors said.
Because of the “suspicious circumstances” surrounding the boy’s death, prosecutors added, the emergency room doctor notified Elkton Police Department detectives that night and they, in turn, started an investigation.
Detectives learned that, earlier that night, Foster had given the boy 150 milligrams of trazodone, a sedative, and 400 milligrams of Seroquel, an antidepressant commonly used to combat schizophrenia and bipolar disorders, prosecutors reported. Those drugs had been prescribed for Foster, not for the child, according to prosecutors.
On Tuesday, standing at the defense table while handcuffed, shackled and clad in an orange inmate uniform, Foster told the judge that he experiences “guilt, shame and remorse,” as well as disturbing “flashbacks on a daily basis.”
Foster, who is a 1996 Elkton High School graduate, also acknowledged his role in the fatal drugging of his son and the non-fatal drugging of his 2-year-old daughter, which also resulted in a conviction for Foster, who is barred from seeing the girl.
“I ignored their needs, safety and welfare,” Foster admitted to the judge, adding that, as a result, “I lost my whole world. I not only lost my son, I lost my heartbeat.”
At the conclusion of his written statement, which he read aloud, Foster remarked that he tries to remain on a “spiritual path” each day and “asks God for help.”
In addition to the 40-year penalty, Baynes levied a consecutive 15-year sentence on Foster for a child abuse conviction that applies to Foster’s daughter, whom he also drugged with his own prescription medication over a protracted period of time.
The daughter is now in the court-approved custody of relatives. Foster and the mother of both children, Chantel Lace South, 24 — she is facing related child abuse and assault charges — voluntarily relinquished their parental rights in late January, days after their arrests. South’s jury trial is set for January 2018.
“As the investigation into the victim’s death unfolded, Foster indicated that both he and South were complicit in the delivery of the prescription medications to their children in the past. In fact, South confessed that she and Foster regularly gave trazodone and Seroquel to both their children. The administering of the medications would occur nearly every day. South indicated the female child has been receiving the medication for nearly a year and the male victim had been receiving the medications for nearly two years. South explained this was done in an attempt to help the children sleep,” Capt. Joseph Zurolo, an EPD spokesman, outlined after detectives arrested Foster and South in late January.
Foster, South and their two children had lived together as a family until November, when the couple broke up, court documents indicate. While Foster and South had joint custody of the girl and of Ayden at the time of his death, they were — and remain — estranged, according to court records, which list South’s last address as the 400 block of Melbourne Boulevard near Elkton.
The maximum 55 years in sentences that Baynes imposed on Foster on Tuesday mirrored the recommendation made by Assistant State’s Attorneys Mary Burnell and Amanda Bessicks, the prosecutors who had negotiated the plea agreement with Foster’s assistant public defender, Edwin B. Fockler IV.
In July, as part of that plea deal, Foster pleaded guilty to the two child abuse charges. In exchange, prosecutors dropped several related charges, including first-degree murder — it includes the element of premeditation and is punishable by up to life in prison — and second-degree murder.
During Tuesday’s hearing, Fockler recommended 15 years of active incarceration for Foster, specifically asking for a 25-year sentence with 10 years suspended. He noted that state sentencing guidelines, which are based on a defendant’s criminal record and other factors, set a penalty range of 15 to 25 years of active incarceration for Foster.
Fockler maintained that a stringent sentence would not lessen the emotional trauma Foster already experiences daily in the aftermath.
“He did not intend to kill his son,” Fockler said. “He lost his son. He lost his daughter. He would be serving a sentence for a lack of thought.”
In addition to dealing with his personal guilt, shame and loss, Foster has encountered the “wrath of family,” Fockler told the judge, conceding that the ire of the surviving relatives is “understandable.”
A letter written by Tina Bernal — the maternal grandmother of Ayden and his surviving sister — and read aloud in the courtroom Tuesday by Bernal’s niece, questions Foster at one point.
“I don’t understand how you could present yourself as a caring, loving father. You were the evil one they needed to be protected from,” the letter reads.
The grandmother also reported in writing that Ayden’s sister is frequently taken to her brother’s burial plot because she misses her brother so much.
“She goes to his graveside and talks to him like he is there. She leaves Spiderman toys at his grave,” Bernal outlines.
As for Ayden, the grandmother remembered the numerous times that she watched the boy, who was known for giving strong hugs and saying, “I love you.”
Bernal summarized, “Your day instantly got better because Ayden was part of it.”