Cleveland man sentenced to life in prison for murdering girlfriend's toddler
CLEVELAND, Ohio -- A Cleveland man was sentenced Wednesday to life in prison with possibility of parole after 15 years for the murder of his girlfriend's 2-year-old son.
Michael Harris, 28, maintained his innocence even as Cuyahoga Common Pleas Judge Brian J. Corrigan announced the sentence, which is the minimum required under Ohio law for murder.
Corrigan found Harris guilty of murder, involuntary manslaughter and felonious assault in a trial five months ago.
Harris and his girlfriend, Twilila Berry, were the only two adults in the home on Jan. 10, 2014, the night the 2-year-old died. The boy was crying in the bathtub, she testified in court, and she called Harris to take it out of the bath.
By the time Harris handed Berry the boy, he had stopped responding, according to prosecutors, and Berry called 911. The county medical office later determined the boy had died from blunt force trauma, prosecutors described it as a blow or "possibly a kick to the head."
Over one and a half years went by before Harris was arrested in the boy's death, in August 2015.
The following October, prosecutors sought murder charges against both Berry and Harris, but a Cuyahoga County grand jury declined to issue an indictment against Berry, charging only Harris in the child's death.
Harris' defense attorney, Donald Butler, continued to cast doubt on the case even at Wednesday's sentencing hearing.
"You have a young child who is dead and the cause of his death is appalling to your senses," Butler told the judge. "My client, who babysat these children before, had no history of disciplining these children."
But Harris did have a history of domestic violence, including a pending case involving his girlfriend, which Butler said might have influenced the judge's guilty verdict.
"There were only two adults in the house that day," Butler said. "But obviously you took the word of hers over my client's."
Berry spoke briefly during the sentencing, telling the judge that she has had a hard time since the incident.
"I miss my son, it's been a tough two years and six months without him," Berry said. "It's just been hard. I lost my father, on January 12, I lost my grandmother. I don't feel no kind of remorse or nothing. I don't forgive him for what he did to my son."
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