The judge called it one of the toughest cases to listen to in his seven years on the bench and thanked the jurors for their service during the weeklong murder trial.
“I know it wasn’t easy,” State Supreme Court Justice M. William Boller told them Monday after they had convicted Dylan Schumaker of second-degree murder in the fatal beating of his girlfriend’s toddler son in March in his mother’s Springville home.
The testimony included descriptions and photos of the fatal head injuries that the 23-month-old victim suffered at the hands of the 16-year-old defendant on the evening of March 19 after his girlfriend, Ashlee Smith, 19, left for work. It was only the second time that he had taken care of both Austin Smith and Austin’s 3-month-old brother. Neither child was his.
Smith, who was sitting in the front row as the jury forewoman announced the verdict shortly after 2 p.m. following 2½ hours of deliberations, hugged and thanked homicide prosecutor Colleen Curtin Gable and Assistant District Attorney Seth T. Molisani after the jury left.
District Attorney Frank A. Sedita III praised Curtin Gable for presenting a strong case, noting the difficulty of convicting someone of intentionally killing a child, because people are generally reluctant to believe that someone would do such a thing.
He cited the strong medical evidence showing the extent of the victim’s head injuries, which the medical examiner testified led to brain bleeding and the boy’s death.
The district attorney also cited last week and testified that he did not intend to kill Austin.
Schumaker told the jury that he slapped the toddler’s face and spanked him when he spit out his food and used an obscenity. He also admitted that he slammed the boy’s head on the floor while changing his diaper as the child tried to get up and that he later put a pillow over the back of his head and punched it three imes because he was afraid that the boy would wake up his baby brother.
Defense attorney Joseph J. Terranova sought to show that Schumaker did not intentionally kill the boy and should not be convicted of murder, which requires proving intent to kill, but should be convicted of the lesser charge of second-degree, or reckless, manslaughter.
In questioning Schumaker, Curtin Gable went through each of Schumaker’s actions against the boy and showed that they were intentional and, when taken together, added up to intentional murder, not reckless manslaughter, Sedita said.
In her closing argument to the jury Monday morning, Curtin Gable said all of Schumaker’s actions – the slapping, the spanking, the slamming and punching of the head – were intentional, not reckless. “This defendant’s intentional acts caused the death of Austin Smith,” she said.
She also noted that he admitted failing to seek help for the boy until he called 911. His girlfriend had told him before she left for work that he should call her, her father or Austin’s father if he had trouble with the boy.
“He chose to keep hurting Austin, that defenseless little boy who weighed 30 pounds and was four days short of his second birthday,” the prosecutor told the jury.
Curtin Gable addressed Schumaker’s testimony that he acted out of frustration and anger because Austin was being rambunctious and noisy.
She connected his frustration and anger to the approximately 150 text messages he sent and received in a little over three hours while he was baby-sitting, including 94 texts with one girl.
“I suggest that taking care of Austin was getting in they way of texting” about selling “spice,” or synthetic marijuana, to friends and “finding a girl to fool around with,” the prosecutor said.
She also noted that Schumaker testified that he had chosen to stop taking the medicine doctors prescribed to treat his anger and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. After the verdict, Terranova said he would file an appeal.
Schumaker faces a prison term of at least 15 years to life and at most 25 years to life when he is sentenced Jan. 10. He has been held without bail.