THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING

Witness to child's death is spared jail time

Gets probation as mother sobs

By John Christoffersen
Associated Press / November 8, 2008
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NEW HAVEN - A Hamden man was spared prison time yesterday for his role in the death of a toddler who was deprived of liquids for a week as punishment for wetting a bed, prompting the victim's sobbing mother to call the case an outrage.

New Haven Superior Court Judge Richard Damiani told Robert Patterson that he had a moral obligation to protect 23-month-old Amari Jackson from harm. The boy died Feb. 26 while in the care of Patterson and his sister, Sharon Patterson, who police say was primarily responsible for the boy's death.

The five-year probation sentence Robert Patterson received was the result of a plea deal he accepted in September. He pleaded guilty to risk of injury to a minor, which carries up to 10 years in prison.

"You have a lot to think about, Mr. Patterson," Damiani said.

The plea deal and sentence angered Amari's mother, Sara Hicks, who cried throughout yesterday's hearing. Hicks has said that the Pattersons, who were her friends, were caring for her son while she was sick with a fever and tending to her 8-month-old daughter.

Hamden police say Sharon Patterson, who has been ruled incompetent to stand trial, deprived the boy of liquids for at least seven days because he wet a bed. They say she also left cups laced with hot sauce around her apartment to teach him a lesson about drinking from other people's glasses.

Hicks wrote a letter to the judge that was read aloud by a victim's advocate in the courtroom yesterday.

"Something was taken from me that can never be replaced - my son's life, the life of an innocent, helpless, one-year, 10-month and 18-day-old baby," she wrote. "The worst part of it is that it could have been prevented."

Robert Patterson witnessed the boy's cruel treatment for a week, Hicks said. She said when she called to check on her son, he did not warn her of the neglect.

Amari was a healthy baby when he was dropped off at the Pattersons and was able to articulate when he was hungry or thirsty, Hicks said. But when she saw him in the hospital, his bones were sticking out of his neck from malnutrition, she said.

"I understand that Amari was not left in the direct care of Robert Patterson, but does that give him a right to watch my son be tortured, do nothing about it and get away scot-free?" Hicks asked.

Prosecutor Michael Pepper has called the case a tragedy. But he said when Patterson was convicted that the plea deal reflects the law that applies to such situations and prosecutors' conclusion that Robert Patterson's role was, at worst, "arguably passive."

Damiani said without the plea deal, he would have ruled on a motion to dismiss the charges. He said if he found Patterson had no legal duty in the case, "he would have walked out of court scot-free."

Robert Patterson, who bowed his head as the victim's advocate read Hicks's statement, did not comment in court or after his sentence. His lawyer said Patterson feels terrible about what happened.

"The temptation when a child dies is to fix the blame on someone," Patterson's lawyer, Jane Grossman, said after her client was sentenced. "Unfortunately, that's not always possible. This is a complicated case and we're grateful the judicial system took the time to look at it carefully and reach a fair result."

Sharon Patterson is charged with manslaughter, cruelty to persons, and risk of injury to a minor. She has been ruled incompetent and is receiving psychiatric treatment. Another hearing on her competency is Dec. 12.

Sharon Patterson told police she had been smoking marijuana and drinking Smirnoff Ice the day before Amati died, according to an arrest warrant affidavit. She also told them she had previously lost custody of four children because of drug addiction.

Hicks said she will never get to see her son's first day of school or watch him learn to ride a bicycle.

"The pain never subsides, the tears don't stop falling and is constantly worsened by the aftermath we now find ourselves dealing with," she wrote.

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