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Oklahoma Appeals Court Upholds Life Sentence in Child Abuse Death

04-Apr-2014

Just over a year ago, we wrote of the conviction of Antwoine Rico Berry, an Edmond man accused of child abuse in the death of his girlfriend's 2-year-old son in 2009. After Berry was convicted, he was sentenced to life in prison for child neglect and the first degree murder of Jolen Babakhani.

Berry appealed his sentence, and earlier this week, the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals upheld his conviction and sentence. 

Berry maintains that the child was injured during "roughhousing" and that he had no intent to injure the child, nor did he realize that the toddler was severely injured while playing. Prosecutors, however, argued that Berry's story--or stories, rather--just didn't add up.

Jolen's mother testified at Berry's murder trial that she had no concerns about leaving her son with Berry, whom she had been dating for nearly a year, but when she returned home, the child was unresponsive with head injuries and blue lips.Sara Babakhani said that Berry told her he didn't know what happened to cause the child's injuries. Jolen died of blunt force trauma to the head.

Prosecutors say that while Berry told Babakhani that he didn't know how the child sustained the injuries, he gave them three different versions of how the child was injured. Berry said that he was wrestling and roughhousing with the boy, as the child's mother had encouraged him to do in order to "toughen up" the toddler. Among his accounts of the incident is one in which he claims that, while wrestling, the 6'1, 216 pound Berry picked 2-year-old Jolen up by the throat and twice slammed him into a couch. The jury was hard pressed to believe that such actions would constitute play, and that anyone could think that picking up a toddler by the throat and throwing him down could be considered safe, fun, or simple roughhousing.

Prosecutors also pointed to Berry's culpability in Jolen's death by noting that the man failed to get medical attention for the obviously injured child. They say he communicated with the boy's mother several times throughout the day, both through phone calls and text messages, and never did he mention that the child was injured.

In February 2013, Berry was sentenced to life in prison for child neglect and life in prison without parole for first degree murder. Prior to his conviction, and just 6 months before Jolen's death, Berry began serving a 5 year deferred sentence for second degree burglary. He is being held in the Davis Correctional Facility in Holdenville, Oklahoma.



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