This update was originally posted in May, but after speaking with family members and gaining some perspective, I am re-posting a revised version.
For anyone who needs a refresher, let’s revisit the story of six-month-old Adrien Decker of Newark, Ohio. On March 9, Adrien was brought to Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, suffering from life-threatening injuries that included bilateral retinal hemorrhaging, spinal damage in his neck, brain swelling, and fractured ribs. On March 10, while the baby clung to life in the hospital, police responded to a report from hospital staff.
The baby’s mother, 18-year-old M.H. (name redacted at her request), told investigators that she saw Adrien’s father, 18-year-old Michael Decker, get up with the baby early Monday morning, yell at him, and “roughly put the infant into a bouncing seat to the point that the baby hit its head.” She said Adrien stopped crying immediately, and they all went back to sleep until about 9:30, when they arose to find the baby unresponsive.
Michael told investigators that he did not harm his son intentionally, although he did admit he was rough with the baby.
On March 12, the family was forced to make the gut-wrenching decision to remove their precious baby boy, who had no brain function, from life support. Adrien died a hero, and on March 14, his mom and other family members somberly followed his gurney toward the operating room. There, his organs were harvested to allow other children the opportunity to live, including a little girl his age who had needed a liver transplant since birth.
Michael was initially charged with one count of endangering children, a second degree felony. In May, a Licking County grand jury convened for only the second time since being put on hold in April due to the current pandemic. The grand jury handed down an indictment for Michael Decker on two second-degree felony counts of endangering children, one third-degree felony count of endangering children, and a single first-degree felony count of involuntary manslaughter.
Initially, I was literally furious over this perceived injustice, but once I calmed down, read some legalese, and spoke with family members of Adrien, the charge actually does make sense. You guys know I’m the first one to demand severe punishments for child abusers, so please hear me out.
Ohio code § 2903.04. Involuntary manslaughter, reads: “(A) No person shall cause the death of another… as a proximate result of the offender’s committing or attempting to commit a felony… (C) Whoever violates this section is guilty of involuntary manslaughter. Violation of division (A) of this section is a felony of the first degree.”
To earn a charge of voluntary manslaughter (§ 2903.03), the offender would have to be provoked by the victim: “(A) No person, while under the influence of sudden passion or in a sudden fit of rage, either of which is brought on by serious provocation occasioned by the victim that is reasonably sufficient to incite the person into using deadly force, shall knowingly cause the death of another… (C) Whoever violates this section is guilty of voluntary manslaughter, a felony of the first degree.”
Obviously, it can’t be argued that a six-month-old baby could have “provoked” his own death, so voluntary manslaughter goes out the window. For either voluntary or involuntary manslaughter, the punishment is the same: three to ten years in prison with a maximum fine of $20,000.
Based on Ohio penal codes, a murder charge just doesn’t seem feasible in this case. Under § 2903.02(B). Murder, it reads, “No person shall cause the death of another as a proximate result of the offender’s committing or attempting to commit an offense of violence that is a felony of the first or second degree and that is not a violation of section 2903.03 or 2903.04 of the Revised Code.” A murder conviction could incur a prison sentence of fifteen years to life.
The maximum sentence Michael could receive if convicted of all four charges is, according to Assistant Licking County Prosecutor Jenny Gonzalez-Wells, 11 years for the involuntary manslaughter charge, eight years for each second-degree felony child endangerment charge, and three years for the third-degree felony child endangerment charge.
According to family members of Adrien, Michael has never shown signs of anger, and the incident that caused Adrien’s death was completely out of the blue. There were never signs that Adrien or his brother were abused prior to the baby’s death, either; in fact, Adrien was seen in the hospital just two weeks before he died, and while he was diagnosed with the flu, the medical staff saw no signs whatsoever that the baby was being abused in any way. One family member even described Michael’s general affect as “soft,” saying he was always respectful to adults and good with his kids.
What it sounds like to me is that Michael, who is still so young that his brain isn’t finished developing yet, was likely groggy with sleep and out of sorts on that fatal morning and lost control for an instant. It can happen to any of us (to varying degrees, of course, and some instincts are stronger in some of us than others). Naturally, I’m not suggesting they fling open the jail door and let him walk out. All I’m saying is that for his momentary loss of control and the immeasurable loss that resulted from it, he deserves to be appropriately punished, and I’m fine with letting the Ohio court system decide what is appropriate in this case.
I am, however, heartbroken over Adrien’s death, and I truly feel for Adrien’s family. His mother, who also has a three-year-old son, is currently about five months pregnant with her third child and is reportedly struggling with both her grief and some family issues. I can’t imagine how jarring it was to lose both her child and the man who she considered the love of her life in one fell swoop, and now, to experience unrest within the family she leans on for strength must make things even more difficult. My sincere hope is that M.H. and everyone else who loves Adrien can find peace with whatever justice is served in his case, and that their days become brighter very soon.
Click here for my ongoing coverage of Adrien’s story.
Sources: Newark Advocate, Ohio Revised Code, Facebook, GoFundMe, family members