DADE CITY — The jury in the aggravated child abuse trial of Thomas Eugene Warren was asked to accept love or cold, hard fact.
The medical experts said shaken baby syndrome is a fact, and the only explanation for the severe, permanent injuries suffered by Warren's 3-month-old son in 2005. The prosecution said the father was the only one who could have harmed the infant.
That couldn't be, the father told the jury.
"Tom Warren loves his kids," Assistant Public Defender Dillon Vizcarra told the jury. "Is that evidence? I submit to you that it is."
Which argument did the jury accept?
Perhaps a little bit of both.
The jury of five men and one woman found Warren guilty Friday night of a lesser charge: child abuse, a third-degree felony.
Why not first-degree aggravated child abuse? Assistant State Attorney Manny Garcia theorized it was a compromise verdict to get all the jurors to agree on guilt. Some jurors may have believed the father did strike his child, the prosecutor thought, but didn't intend to injure and disable the boy, now 3, for life.
But what would the jury have thought had they known that Warren, who professed to be a devoted father on the stand, was also behind $10,000 in child support?
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Warren testified Friday morning that he was a happy father who didn't know what happened to his child until they got to the hospital on April 1, 2005.
He denied slamming his fists into the baby's crib in Wesley Chapel, as the state alleged — and that he did it in front of Warren's older son, then 3.
"This is your dad," the father said he told his infant son that night, showing the jury how he cradled him. "What's the trouble, big bear?"
But Warren also had a criminal history of grand theft, writing bad checks and violating his probation that earned him 2 1/2 years in prison in 1992.
It took the jury 2 1/2 hours to find him guilty.
Warren could have gotten up to 30 years in prison had he been convicted of the more severe charge.
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The victim's mother, Susan Martin Warren, wanted the maximum for her estranged husband: five years.
"(My son) is a prisoner in his own body," she said, "and we have no idea, despite the remarkable recovery that he has made true, we have no idea in fact how his life will be played out. …
"I do not know if he will be able to fulfill a life as a truly functional citizen."
Then she told the judge about the $10,000.
Circuit Judge Pat Siracusa then sent 51-year-old Thomas Warren back to prison for four years and six months.
"Your son is going to have to suffer the consequences of your actions," the judge told him. "You're going to have to suffer them, too."
Jamal Thalji can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 869-6236.