Austin D. Hammond, 23, of Columbus, left, appears Monday in Hancock County Common Pleas Court, where he was sentenced to prison for the death of his infant daughter in 2017. (Photo by Randy Roberts)

Staff Writer

A Columbus man pleaded guilty Monday to charges related to the death of his infant daughter in Hancock County. He was sentenced to 14 years in prison.

Austin D. Hammond, 23, of Columbus, fatally injured his 8-month-old daughter, Elaina Hammond, in November 2017.

He was originally indicted by a Hancock County grand jury for murder, an unclassified felony, and endangering children, a second-degree felony, in May 2018.

On Monday, he pleaded guilty in Hancock County Common Pleas Court to an amended charge of involuntary manslaughter, a first-degree felony.

Hammond apologized to his family for the result of his “negligence” and said he will work to “become a better person” in prison.

He also pleaded guilty to tampering with evidence, a third-degree felony. That charge was contained in a bill of information filed Monday. The grand jury process was waived.

The prosecution and defense agreed to ask Judge Jonathan Starn to dismiss the original child endangering charge, which he did. Starn sentenced Hammond to 11 years in prison for involuntary manslaughter and three years for tampering with evidence, to be served consecutively for a total of 14 years.

This is the maximum possible sentence for those charges, and the punishment jointly recommended by the prosecution — including Assistant County Prosecutors Colleen Limerick and Steve Powell — and the defense.

Hammond’s lawyer, Mark Collins, said he believes Hammond will never forgive himself, “because he knows that he was responsible for causing the death of his child in this situation.”

The new tampering charge is because Hammond tampered with evidence of drugs he used at the time of Elaina Hammond’s death, Hancock County Prosecutor Phil Riegle said after the proceedings Monday.

Collins said his client was “self-medicating” for “mental health issues,” and that Hammond has admitted he “was not someone who should be around children at that point in time.”

Judge Starn encouraged Hammond to take advantage of resources like counseling and treatment while in prison.

“What happened is not changed by what we did today. You have to live with that,” Starn said.

The prosecution wouldn’t have been comfortable with only the 11-year sentence for involuntary manslaughter, Riegle said, so the tampering charge was added to reach a longer sentence.

“We didn’t come up with this on our own,” he said, adding that the prosecution consulted with law enforcement and health professionals about the agreement.

Elaina Hammond’s mother, Bailey Hammond, considers Austin Hammond less culpable than the prosecution does, Riegle said. She has a different idea than the prosecution of what happened on Nov. 4, 2017, the day Elaina Hammond was injured, he said.

Elaina Hammond was beaten and sustained head trauma, Riegle said at the time Austin Hammond was indicted by the grand jury.

The infant was taken to Blanchard Valley Hospital the evening of Nov. 4. She was later flown to Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, where she died Nov. 7, 2017.

Austin Hammond has been held in the Hancock County jail since May 10, 2018. He received credit for 299 days served.

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