By Kim Palmer
CLEVELAND (Reuters) - An Ohio man was sentenced on Wednesday to four years in prison for taking his 5-year-old son from his mother's house in Alabama in 2002 and living with him under false identities for 13 years.
Bobby Hernandez, 53, was also given five years' probation by Cuyahoga County Judge Cassandra Collier-Williams. He had faced up to 54 years in prison.
Hernandez made a few brief statements in court, including apologies to his son and former girlfriend, before becoming overwhelmed by emotion. “Julian was always the most important thing to me,” he said.
In March, he pleaded guilty to 15 charges: two counts of felony kidnapping, 10 of tampering with records, two of interference with custody and one of forgery. Seventeen other charges were dropped as part of a plea agreement.
Hernandez was arrested in November 2015 after the FBI received a tip that he and his son were living in Cleveland, with the son using the name Jonathan Mangina. Prosecutors said Hernandez had told his girlfriend, the boy's mother, that if she ever broke up with him she would never see the boy again.
Julian Hernandez, now 19, was found in a national database for missing children after he told a high school guidance counsellor he knew something was "amiss with his Social Security number," Cuyahoga County prosecutor Timothy McGinty said.
Julian read a statement asking the judge not to sentence his father to prison, sobbing as he said he thought his father had done a lot of good.
“He loved me and protected me more than anyone else in my life,” the son said. “Being away from my mother was painful, but to take him away from me now would just increase that pain.”
Attorney Gloria Allred read a statement from the boy’s mother, who has asked for anonymity, calling her son’s abduction “the worst day of her life” and that she considered suicide after his disappearance.
The sentence for Hernandez is one year above the minimum for felony kidnapping. His attorney Ralph DeFranco told reporters the son continues to live with his father’s fiancée and his 3-year-old step-sister in Cleveland.
The judge also removed the no-contact order in the case, allowing Julian to visit his father.
“This case is a mother’s nightmare,” Collier-Williams said. She added that she took Julian's request into account in the sentencing.
Hernandez still faces felony custody interference charges in Alabama, McGinty said.
(Reporting by Kim Palmer; Writing by Ben Klayman; Editing by James Dalgleish)