NEWS

Scalding toddler gets man 4 years in prison

05/17/2012 02:29 EDT | Updated 07/17/2012 05:12 EDT

A former Lakeville man has been sentenced to four years in prison for dunking a toddler in a scalding hot bathtub, giving her second and third-degree burns.

James Parker-Thorne, 23, had previously pleaded guilty to criminal negligence causing bodily harm.

The sentence is almost double what lawyers had recommended to the court.

The little girl's mother told CBC News she's relieved.

"I would not have been happy with the 18 to 30 months they were saying, so four years, I'll take that," said the woman, who cannot be named due to a publication ban protecting the identity of her daughter.

"I’m happy for closure," she said. "It’s not going to heal the wounds, but closure is good."

In August 2009, the then two-year-old girl suffered severe burns to 27 per cent of her body — from her thighs to stomach/lower back.

She was home alone with Parker-Thorne, who was in a relationship with the girl's mother at the time and was taking care of the toddler that day.

The burn pattern indicates Parker-Thorne held the girl by the ankles and one hand, and dunked her in the tub, the Moncton provincial court heard.

Parker-Thorne, who was 20 at the time, had told a doctor at the hospital that the girl had pulled a kettle full of hot water onto herself, but the doctor didn't believe him.

He then changed his story and claimed the girl had sat in a bath for a few minutes before he noticed her skin turning red, but the burn pattern told a different story.

Parker-Thorne said the girl had soiled her diaper, so he put her in the tub, but only he knows what really happened that day, the court heard.

He fled the province shortly after the incident and was arrested on a warrant in Ontario last March.

Girl spent 9 weeks in hospital

The little girl spent nine weeks in hospital and had to have numerous surgeries and skin grafts to repair the damage.

Medical staff said the burns were the worst they had ever seen, aside from fire victims.

Judge Anne Dugas-Horsman called the case highly emotional and very serious.

The little girl has been left with severe injuries that will affect her for the rest of her life, she said.

The judge had a difficult time looking at pictures of the burns, but said she had to give the case sober consideration and not be "emotionally hijacked" by the photos.

The girl's mother agrees.

"The story itself is heartbreaking, but to see the actual pictures … anybody that has seen the pictures, it's hard to see. Like she said, she only saw two and and she had to take a day, she had to take some time to look at them. It's rough," she said.

"People have asked me, have I seen the pictures? I say, I live it. I saw that for six months. I lived it, so I don’t need to see those pictures even though I do have a copy of them."

Worried about future

The girl, now five years old, is a happy child, her mother said.

"Anybody that sees her, they don’t see the scars and you wouldn’t be able to tell unless it was pointed out, you saw her scars, or you knew about our story," she said.

"She runs around, she makes anybody smile. Anybody that sees her, they comment on how funny and happy she is."

But the mother worries about what will happen when her daughter is older.

"Right now, she doesn’t notice the scars. She’s still too young. She thinks people, when they do notice it, they’re just paying attention to her.

"She’s still of an innocent age, but I’m scared once she gets older, adolescence, she notices them, she notices how some things are more difficult for her.

"And if we do find out that it has affected her sexual health, her reproduction… on a normal day, nobody’s happy to find that out. But to know you weren’t born that way, it was caused by an incident that could have been prevented, it’s difficult."

The mother said she too has been affected by the ordeal, which has dragged on for nearly three years.

"I had almost gotten over it, just locked it away, it’s never going to happen," she said. But the court case, "immediately kicked up all the emotions — anger, happiness, stress."

She still only feels comfortable leaving her daughter with relatives and has trust issues, she said.

Credit given for time in custody

The judge said she had to weigh many factors in sentencing. Parker-Thorne was only 20 years old at the time, pleaded guilty and has expressed regret.

And while Parker-Thorne fled the province, the judge said she believes the case was an isolated incident and that he can be rehabilitated.

Still, the little girl will have to live with her injuries for life — and sentencing had to reflect that, she said.

She will give Parker-Thorne credit for the time he has spent in custody since being arrested in March, she added.

On Wednesday, the judge rejected a joint recommendation for a sentence of up to 30 months in jail, saying it was too low.

Although New Brunswick's Court of Appeal says judges should give serious consideration to joint recommendations from the Crown and defence, judge are not bound by them.

Dugas-Horsman said she could sentence Parker-Thorne to up to eight years in prison and adjourned sentencing until Thursday to take more time to review case law.

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