Hardy man gets 8 years for punching child

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By Tom Wilmoth

A Hardy man will spend the next eight years in jail after being sentenced Friday for fracturing the skull of a 17-month-old child.

In sentencing Robert Lewis Evans, 24, for child abuse and malicious wounding, Bedford County Circuit Court Judge James Updike said the case was one of the most reprehensible he had seen while serving in the court, and sentenced Evans above the guidelines in the case.

Evans, meanwhile, maintained his innocence in the case, though he pleaded guilty back in June to the charges. He claims that statements he made to law enforcement admitting his guilt weren't true.

Chief Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Wes Nance was pleased with the sentence, but "outraged" by Evans' lack of willingness to admit his guilt.

"There's never any excuse for balling up your fist and punching a child ? not once, not twice, but three times," Nance said during the hearing.

Nance bristled at the attempt by Evans to shift blame to the mother of the child.

"He has no remorse for his repeated assault on a completely defenseless 17-month-old child," Nance said.

During testimony by Evans' sister, the defense raised the possibility that it was Evans, not the child's mother, who wanted to take the child to the hospital. At that point the child's mother, Katherine Ferguson, 25, of Roanoke, stormed out of the courtroom, making comments to Evans' family as she left. She was asked to leave the courthouse and was later arrested outside by Bedford Police on a misdemeanor charge of disorderly conduct. Bedford Police Chief Jim Day said officers were called to the courthouse and tried to get Ferguson to calm down, but she wouldn't. The charge is a misdemeanor.

Inside the courtroom, the child's grandparents remained, holding pictures of the child throughout the hearing.

On Nov. 7, 2007, Evans, and the child's mother brought the child to Community Hospital in Roanoke. They told the hospital that they found the child in his crib bleeding from the nose and ear.

The child was listless and woozy. Both denied knowing what happened. An examination revealed two small fractures in the side of the child's skull and bruising to both the outside and the inside of the ear. According to Nance, medical experts said the bruising was inconsistent with a fall.

Nance said Evans initially denied doing anything to the child but the next day, during an interview with a Bedford County Sheriff's Office investigator, changed his story several times. He initially told the investigator that he had gotten up to feed the child and that the child had slipped out of his hands. Then, he said the child had hit his head on the play pen. Finally, Nance said, Evans admitted to punching the child three times with a closed fist, in an effort to keep the child quiet.

But Evans later recanted his statement to law enforcement, claiming he dropped the child while going down stairs. His attorney, W. Edward Cooley, said Evans felt guilty for dropping the child, but denies punching the infant.

Cooley said Evans could have acted remorseful in an effort to get a lighter sentence, but he did "not want to be untruthful with the court" about his actions.

"He recanted that," Cooley said of the confession. "People do things for different reasons. ...Throughout his life he has been very loving and caring for children. ...Obviously it's truly unfortunate and sad that this happened to the child."

"He's not taking responsibility and he's not showing remorse," Nance said in arguing for a sentence in the upper end of the guidelines. Those guidelines had called for an active sentence of two to six years, but Updike went above those giving Evans a 16 year sentence on the crimes with eight years to serve. He will also have four years of supervised probation upon his release.

Nance said the child, now 2, is doing well.