DOVER, Del. (AP) — A former airman at Dover Air Force Base was given 18 months probation at sentencing Thursday in the death of a 21-month-old boy who was left in his care while his mother was deployed overseas.
Justin Corbett, who was charged with first-degree murder in the 2012 death of Evan Dudley, was convicted in July on the lesser charge of criminally negligent homicide.
State guidelines call for a presumptive sentence of zero to two years in prison for criminally negligent homicide, with a maximum sentence of eight years.
Prosecutors, along with the victim's mother, asked the judge to impose the maximum sentence.
Superior Court Judge Robert Young handed down an eight-year sentence but immediately suspended it for 31 days time served and probation. In sentencing the 28-year-old defendant, Young noted Corbett's lack of a criminal background and his exemplary military record.
Corbett maintained Thursday that the boy accidently fell down a flight of stairs after he left him alone briefly with another child.
"I will bear the burden of this tragic accident for the rest of my days," he told the judge.
Prosecutor Josette Manning dismissed defense arguments that Evan's death was accidental. Manning pointed to medical experts who concluded that the boy suffered "inflicted trauma."
"Good people do bad things, but they still should be punished for what they've done," she said.
Evan's mother, Nicole Dudley, who was within days of returning from a deployment to Qatar when her son was injured, also asked for the maximum sentence. She recounted the pain she has endured and recited a litany of life events she will never be able to share with her son.
Dudley said Corbett not only took her son's life, but destroyed hers as well.
"He took my life away from me," she told the judge. "I will never know what happiness feels like again."
As supporters of both Corbett and Dudley looked on, some in tears, Young noted that no sentence could undo "a terribly tragic event."
"No one can imagine Ms. Dudley's pain," added the judge, who said the jury concluded that the boy's death was neither murder, nor simply a tragic accident.
Dudley expressed her disappointment as she left the courthouse.
"Just because you're in the military doesn't mean that you shouldn't be held accountable for your actions," she said. "I think the jury failed, I think the judge failed and I think justice was not served."