The father of a girl who died of a morphine overdose two years ago was sent to jail for a year Tuesday.
"You were responsible for watching your child at home. Your [girlfriend] was sick and asleep," Niagara County Judge Matthew J. Murphy III told Nicholas A. Doxey, 24, of Niagara Street, Lockport. "The child died on your watch."
Doxey had pleaded guilty Jan. 12 to endangering the welfare of a child in connection with the March 4, 2008, death of 13-month-old Sierra Marie Doxey. At first, Nicholas Doxey and the child's mother, Sara E. Nigro, 23, thought the girl died of pneumonia, but toxicology tests showed otherwise.
Both were charged with criminally negligent homicide, but the district attorney's office dropped the charge against Nigro in January and offered Doxey the misdemeanor plea.
"He pleaded guilty against my advice," defense attorney E. Earl Key said in court. "I still think he should have gone to trial. I don't think the [prosecution] could have proved [its] case."
Doxey said nothing in court and, as he was led away in handcuffs, did not respond to a question from a reporter asking for a comment on the sentencing.
Doxey has a misdemeanor criminal record including drunken driving and assault. Murphy said his prior record was a reason for giving him the maximum sentence for a misdemeanor. Key had argued for a conditional discharge.
"He will walk out of here with his head held high, knowing he did not give this child morphine," Key said.
Key's theory is that a morphine tablet was dropped into Sierra's blankets at a birthday party in Lockport's United Auto Workers hall a couple of days before her death and that the child ate it without her parents ever knowing it was there.
However, Nigro had told police that Doxey had a history of morphine use, and Assistant District Attorney Lisa M. Baehre ridiculed Key's version.
"He still continues to blame this family party for this crazy, ridiculous notion," Baehre said. "There is no question that it was this defendant's morphine that killed this baby. Whether it was accidental or intentional, we'll never know."
Key insisted that three people at the party were on morphine, including Doxey's father, who once lost a morphine pill near Nicholas and Sara's other child, Nicholas Doxey Jr., now 7. That caused the parents to take the boy to have his stomach pumped as a precaution.
Key said Doxey and Nigro -- who was in court and also walked silently past reporters seeking comment -- have been a couple for more than 10 years.
Police said that when they told the couple that morphine killed Sierra, Nigro turned to Doxey and said, "You were supposed to be watching her. . . . I can't believe you did this."
Baehre said Doxey's history includes three investigations by Child Protective Services; Key said CPS cleared his client in the morphine case, but the district attorney's office reopened it.
"Talk about punishment," Key said, adding that both defendants lost their jobs as a result of the charges.
"They put two people on the welfare system," he said. "The DA's office filed charges against Ms. Nigro and subsequently dismissed them, but the damage was done."
The case also fractured the Nigro family. After arraignment last June, her mother, Deborah Hand, called her own daughter a "baby killer" and slapped her face in a courthouse hallway, leading to her own arrest. And Nigro's father, Peter Nigro, fought with Doxey in another courthouse hallway Dec. 4.
They wrote a letter that Baehre read aloud: "On the day [Sierra] died, we lost not only Sierra but our daughter Sara and any chance at a nurturing relationship with our grandson. What woman would stay with anybody who could have caused the death of her child?"