NEW PORT RICHEY — A jury found a father guilty Friday of shaking his baby son so hard it caused brain damage in one of the worst child abuse cases the prosecutor says she has ever seen.
Jonathan Gelb, 28, faces up to 30 years in prison after a jury of four women and two men found him guilty of aggravated child abuse on his then 2-month-old son, Lukuz. He is scheduled to be sentenced June 15.
Gelb showed no emotion as he learned his fate, while the child's mother, Leann Rodriguez, wept amid a sea of embraces from her family.
Next to her sat Lukuz in a baby chair. The boy, who turns 4 this summer, also began to cry. Due to his injuries, Lukuz cannot see, walk, talk, or eat on his own. But Rodriguez said after the verdict that somehow, she hopes, he heard justice being done.
"I did this for him. He may not be able to see but he can hear what is being done. And I wanted Jonathan to see what he had done as well," Rodriguez said of having their son in the courtroom for the verdict.
Prosecutors told the jury that on Sept. 30, 2008, Rodriguez came home from work to find her son limp in Gelb's arms, barely breathing. Jurors heard Rodriguez's harrowing 911 call as a dispatcher talked her through giving her son CPR. Assistant State Attorney Eva Vergos played the emotional call again during closing arguments.
Doctors found bleeding in Lukuz's brain and broken bones in his leg. Several doctors found the baby had injuries consistent with shaken-baby syndrome. During her closing argument, Vergos questioned why Gelb never called 911.
"That's not a caring father, ladies and gentleman," Vergos said.
Assistant public defender William Pura argued that Gelb had nothing to do with his son's injuries; instead an underlying heart condition Lukuz was born with may have cause a stroke, the attorney argued. He also noted there were no witnesses and no outward signs of trauma on the child.
"The state wants you to speculate, pure and simple," Pura told jurors. "They are confident that a crime was committed, but they have no idea what happened."
Outside the courtroom, Vergos said in her 11 years of prosecuting crimes against children, she has not seen a worse case of child abuse where the victim survived.
"He's devastated," she said of Lukuz.
For Rodriguez, her mission moving forward is to take care of her son and speak out against child abuse.
"I really want people to look at shaken-baby. It's a very serious thing," she said. "My baby survived, but someone else's may not."