A Colorado Springs father who pleaded guilty last year in the child-abuse death of his infant son was sentenced Tuesday to 31 years in prison.
James Earl Pierce Jr., 21, sat with his eyes closed and hands folded in front of his face during portions of an emotional, standing room-only sentencing hearing in the April 15, 2011 death of 4-month-old Jayden Pierce.
Initially charged with first-degree murder, Pierce pleaded guilty to child abuse resulting in death and had faced 25 to 40 years in prison.
Before imposing what he called a penalty in the “moderate range,” 4th Judicial District Judge Larry E. Schwartz said Pierce never accounted for how the child was injured, and the judge suggested Pierce gave supporters the impression the case against him was the result of “being in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
“Everybody needs to understand: I just don’t buy it,” Schwartz said, before rattling off a list of injuries found at the child’s autopsy, including rib fractures and brain injuries allegedly inflicted over a period of time.
Turning his gaze to Pierce, Schwartz added: “You pleaded guilty in this case. No one else did so.”
The judge’s comments came after a string of friends and relatives spoke in support of Pierce, describing him as a loving father and telling the court Pierce wouldn’t be capable of harming a child, let alone his son.
“The health of that baby was his utmost priority,” Marcus Herlea Jr., a friend, said in comments that echoed those of a half-dozen supporters, some of whom suggested others were to blame.
Pierce is a graduate of Sand Creek High School and briefly attended Western State Colorado University in Gunnison before his child was born.
The child’s mother awoke April 15 to find Jayden lying unresponsive in the couple’s apartment in the 1600 block of East Woodmen Road. An autopsy determined the infant died of brain injuries inflicted within the past 24 hours — a period when authorities say Pierce was alone with the boy.
Although Pierce claimed the child fell from a bouncy chair, police say he used his Apple iPhone to search for information about “shaken baby syndrome” and for tips on making bruises disappear.
Pierce, shackled in an orange El Paso County jail jumpsuit, expressed remorse before his sentence was imposed but didn’t acknowledge harming the child.
“I’ll never, ever be happy with myself,” he said in a soft-spoken voice. “I’ll never accept what happened.”
The child’s grandmother, Angela Marino, said she has suffered from flashbacks and night terrors since Jayden’s death — and that her daughter, who has since moved to California, was too overcome with emotion to be present. Without Pierce’s explanation, the family lacks closure, she said.
“The last memory of my grandson, and the one that will haunt me for the rest of my life, is seeing Jayden lying dead in a hospital bed covered in tubes and bruises,” she said.
At least six deputies were sent to keep order after Schwartz’s sentence led to outbursts in court.
One man shouted an obscenity and Pierce’s mother, sobbing loudly, shouted “I will never give up on you!” as her son was led away in handcuffs.