Merced Teen Sentenced to Life

November 6, 2008 12:00:00 AM PST
The teen will serve no more than nine years, despite the life sentence. A north valley teen is sentenced to life for beating his 21-month old cousin to death. A Merced County juvenile judge handed down the sentence this morning after an emotional statement by the victim's father.

The 16-year old was not charged as an adult. That means he'll serve his time in a juvenile institution and must be released by the time he turns 25. But both sides in this case say it's a fair punishment for a heartbreaking crime.

This is Merced teenager whose 21-month old cousin died after he beat the toddler with a belt. Action News is not revealing his identity because he's a minor. The 16-year old chose not to speak before being sentenced today, but the baby's father did.

Steven McCowan told the judge, "He didn't assault my son, he murdered my son."

Defense attorney Caleb Hegland said those words brought tears to the teen's eyes. "It added to his grief that the father was there, it made it very real for him. But he's very remorseful and very sad."

Hegland said his client never meant to kill king McCowan when he was left to babysit the toddler for five days in August. He said the teen beat the baby because that's how he had been disciplined.

But Superior Court Commissioner Thomas Burr chose to hand down the maximum sentence because of the violent nature of the crime and a past arrest for a home invasion robbery. "He was committed for the maximum term, which is life. Based on the facts of this case we thought it was appropriate."

Prosecutors chose not to charge the teen as an adult, so he'll serve his time in the state's division of juvenile justice. That means he must be released by age 25 and could be paroled before then.

But judge burr warned that as many as 97-percent of the juveniles in the system are gang members. He urged the teen to stay away from that lifestyle and to take advantage of educational and vocational services.

The teen's mother showed up half way through the sentencing and later left the court in tears.



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