By KATHRYNE RUBRIGHT
Evidence in an infant’s 2017 death points to a “shaken baby case,” Hancock County Prosecutor Phil Riegle said Wednesday in explaining the actions of the baby’s father, who pleaded guilty to felony charges this week.
Austin D. Hammond, 23, of Columbus, was sentenced Monday to 14 years in prison on manslaughter and tampering with evidence charges in the death of his 8-month-old daughter, Elaina Hammond.
Riegle said some evidence suggests that it’s “possible” there was “an impact” in addition to the shaking. The infant’s head could have hit a floor or wall, for example.
According to an autopsy report from the Franklin County Coroner’s Office, Elaina Hammond suffered “blunt force injuries to the head.”
The child was taken to Blanchard Valley Hospital the evening of Nov. 4, 2017. She was later flown to Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, where she died Nov. 7.
The amount of force required to cause Elaina Hammond’s injuries would be similar to that of a car crash or a fall from a two-story building, Riegle said.
The autopsy report lists “traumatic brain injury” as the cause of death, and says the death was a homicide.
Two contusions are listed in the report: one half-inch “linear” bruise on the left side of the forehead, half an inch above the eyebrow, and one measuring 1 inch by 1 inch on the “left occiput.” The occipital bone is the lower back part of the skull.
The report also notes a “subdural hematoma,” or blood built up on the brain, and a cerebral edema, or swelling.
This case “had some similarities” to that of Brent Houdeshell of Arlington, “but each case is different,” Riegle said Wednesday.
Houdeshell’s case went to trial. He was convicted in January 2018 of killing 2-year-old Breydon Ferrell and was sentenced to life in prison. He will become eligible for parole after 17 years.
Houdeshell was found guilty of murder, an unclassified felony; endangering children, a second-degree felony; and tampering with evidence, a third-degree felony, in the boy’s 2016 death.
Hammond was originally indicted by a grand jury for murder, an unclassified felony, and endangering children, a second-degree felony.
He pleaded guilty to an amended charge of involuntary manslaughter, a first-degree felony, and tampering with evidence, a third-degree felony charge that was newly filed on Monday. The child endangering charge was dismissed.
His 14-year sentence is the maximum possible for the two charges.
“Of course, everybody would just like to say, ‘Put him in jail and throw away the key,’ but that’s not reality. That’s not the way the system works,” Riegle said. This outcome is “what we could all live with.”