By CHRISTIN COYNE
A Parker County man who officials say killed his infant son in October 2010 pleaded guilty Tuesday to second-degree felony injury to a child and received the maximum 20-year sentence.
John Paul Webb, 37, indicted on a capital murder charge in the case, pleaded guilty in 415th District Court to a charge of recklessly causing serious bodily injury to Christian Ray Webb.
On Oct. 11, 2010, the child’s mother, 24-year-old Angelica Joyce Ahern, called 911 from the family’s residence in the 500 block of Wood Hollow Drive and reported that her month-old son was non-responsive. The boy was transported to Cook Children Hospital’s in Fort Worth, where he died later that day due to blunt trauma to the head and brain.
The boy’s injuries included a fractured skull and brain bleeding that caused his death, four broken ribs, a bruise above his eye, a torn upper lip frenulum, and anal tearing, according to Assistant District Attorney Robert DuBoise.
Experts found that there was clearly blunt force impact to his head, though that could have been one blow or two impacts on each side of the head, DuBoise said.
They believe the rib injuries occurred before his death, according to DuBoise.
Prosecutors still aren’t sure exactly how the incident occurred, though DuBoise said the case has all the earmarks of a case of a parent who became frustrated at a possibly fussy child.
When initially interviewed, Webb told investigators he fell asleep on the couch and woke because of barking dogs outside.
He reportedly said that when he went to investigate, someone struck him on the head, knocking him out.
Angelica Ahern and her then 3-year-old daughter both told investigators they did not hear noises during the night.
Her son was in the crib when she went to bed but was in bed next to her when she woke up, Ahern told investigators. When she began to change his diaper that morning, she reported finding him cold and unresponsive.
Ahern initially told investigators she believed her son’s death was a result of a low-impact accident the day prior, when a motorcycle rear-ended their vehicle.
Ahern later passed a polygraph examination regarding whether she caused any injuries to her son, according to prosecutors, though they noted the test results are not admissible as evidence in court.
For the first time since the incident, Webb admitted to injuring the child with the plea, according to DuBoise, who said Webb declined a post-conviction interview with the investigator.
“I think that he [Christian] got some justice,” Ahern said of the plea and sentence. “It’s not near what I wanted to see. John had to admit guilt and that he did something wrong.”
“This was a very challenging case,” said DuBoise, who prosecuted the case along with Assistant District Attorney Nikki Morton. “While we believe that Webb was responsible for causing the child’s death and other injuries, to have proven this case we would have had to prove that Webb intended to kill the child. Because no one witnessed Webb injure the child, the only way to prove his intent would be circumstantially. To prove his state of mind beyond a reasonable doubt was going to be difficult.”
“In preparing for trial, we examined cell phone records, text messages and posts on social networking sites, and what we found was that since her husband’s arrest, the mother made several statements claiming that John Webb did not kill their child,” DuBoise said. “While we understand that the loss of her son and the incarceration of her husband placed enormous stresses upon her, we believe that certain conduct and statements by her would serve to confuse the jury at trial. We’ve discussed these issues with the mother and she is fully supportive of a plea bargain in this case.”
Because he had no prior felony convictions, Webb would have been eligible for probation if the jury found him guilty of recklessly causing injury to the child rather than intentionally or knowingly causing his death, according to DuBoise.
“The last thing we wanted was him walking out of there a free man based on what he did,” DuBoise said. “That’s not what anybody wanted.”
Webb will be eligible for parole after serving a quarter of his sentence, according to DuBoise. He has already served more than two years in county jail awaiting trial.
Ahern said she does now believe her husband killed her son but has not received many of the answers she wanted and doesn’t expect to.
Webb was charged with two assaults against Ahern, including a felony choking case, in the months prior to Christian’s death.
“When he drank, he was just mean to me,” Ahern said, adding that she never saw him being mean to the children. “Maybe I just didn’t see what everybody else saw.”
She said she believed their son would change their relationship.
However, Webb kept saying Christian was not his son when she was pregnant with him and was distant when her son was born, Ahern said.
The week prior she accompanied her daughter on a field trip and Webb was supposed to watch the boy, Ahern said. However, when she returned home, she said she found Christian still in the bassinet.
“He hadn’t even acknowledged his son was there,” Ahern said.
She said she told the judge Tuesday how she didn’t just lose her son that day but lost everything - her husband, her house and her daughter.
Ahern’s daughter, now six years old, has been placed with relatives by the court.
Everything she’d worked so hard to hold onto, she lost, Ahern said.
It was difficult seeing Webb in the courtroom, Ahern said.
“He didn’t have any emotion,” Ahern said. “It was like he just ran a stop sign, like no big deal.”
Ahern said she wants Webb to serve all 20 years, describing it as “a slap on the wrist for killing a baby,” and plans to write the parole board.
“A lot of people are (upset) because of the fact that he took a plea bargain,” Ahern said. “They don’t understand. They don’t know all the details ... they can’t judge it unless they’ve walked through it.”