The Edmond Sun

February 22, 2013

Judge enforces jury recommendation in toddler’s death

Mark Schlachtenhaufen
The Edmond Sun

OKLA. CITY —  A  judge followed the jury’s recommended sentence in the homicide of an Edmond toddler, noting the defendant’s remorse has been insufficient.

Earlier this month, an 8-woman 4-man jury returned a guilty verdict against Rico Antwoine Berry, 28, and recommended he receive the maximum sentence — life without the possibility of parole on a first-degree murder charge and life on a child neglect charge.

During the trial, the judge and jurors heard from a variety of witnesses including police officers who performed CPR on Jolen Babakhani, 2, in October 2009, the crime scene investigator who examined blood evidence in an Edmond apartment and the victim’s mother who recalled events surrounding the moment her son suffered the injuries.

The judge and jurors saw graphic hospital and autopsy images of injuries the state medical examiner’s office and prosecutors said caused the toddler’s death. They did not hear directly from the defendant, and they did not hear from any defense witnesses.

Friday morning, Oklahoma County District Judge Glenn Jones told Berry he knew the victim’s injuries were serious and he had time to provide aid yet he did not. Jones sentenced Berry to life without parole and life, saying the terms will run consecutively.  

Berry was ordered to pay a $50 fine, a $200 attorney fee and a $45 victims compensation assessment.

Before the judge announced his decision, he heard from Assistant District Attorney Gayland Gieger, defense attorney Mark McCormick, the victim’s mother and the victim’s grandmother.

Standing before the judge’s bench, Sara Babakhani began by thanking the judge and all others involved in the proceedings. They included Assistant District Attorney Suanne Carlson, who prosecuted the case along with Gieger, and Michael Chesley, the lead detective from the Edmond Police Department.

Babakhani told the judge she will never get her son back, but she would have some consolation knowing that the defendant would spend the rest of his life in jail under the jury’s recommended sentence.

“We will always have him in our hearts,” she said.

Peggy Babakhani, the victim’s grandmother, stood before the judge and said the defendant does not feel the pain she and the victim’s mother feel over the loss. She said family members no longer are able to hug, kiss or love on Jolen.

The judge gave the defendant a chance to speak but he declined.

McCormick said the defendant maintains his innocence on the charges, and he plans to appeal the decision. McCormick asked the judge to give his client a life sentence on both counts, what would amount to about 35 years in prison followed by life on probation.

Gieger said members of the victim’s family have waited more than 3 years for justice after what was a horrific, abusive situation. Gieger said the jury heard the evidence and the defense had an opportunity to present their case. He asked the judge to follow the jury’s recommendation.

Gieger said one of the difficulties in the legal system at this point in the process is attempting to quantify a human life. He said the defendant was still not taking responsibility for his actions. The defendant knew the child had serious injuries and did nothing, Gieger said.

Jolen, who was born on Feb. 2, 2007, died on Oct. 15, 2009. As previously reported by The Edmond Sun, Jolen’s mother donated his organs. His heart was given to an 8-month-old boy in Chicago. There were adult candidates for his kidneys. His liver was donated to research. | 341-2121, ext. 108