A Booneville man plead no contest to first degree domestic battery Friday in Paris in a case involving the abuse of an 18-month old baby and was sentenced to 20 years in prison.
According to 15th Judicial District Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Brian Mueller, had Thomas E. Smith, 26, not accepted the plea in Paris Friday, the state was prepared to begin trying the case on Monday in Booneville.
Before 15th Judicial District Judge Jerry Don Ramey treated the plea as a guilty plea, Mueller said the state intended to call doctors, including some from Arkansas Children’s Hospital, who would testify to the extent of the child’s injuries and belief that the injuries were the result of abuse.
Mueller said defense attorney Ernie Witt and the defendant stipulated the case could prove its case before Ramey accepted the plea.
Because the offense is a Class B felony, Smith will have to serve at least half, or 10 years in prison, but that could be reduced by half with the maximum amount of "good time," Mueller said.
However, both Mueller and 15th Judicial District Prosecuting Attorney Tom Tatum said the state would be opposing parole for Smith at any point he becomes eligible.
Smith was formally charged with first degree battery of the baby last December after an investigation that began in September when Smith and the baby’s mother, Jennifer Shook, took the unconscious child to the Booneville Community Hospital emergency room on Sept. 16.
When Smith was charged, an arrest warrant affidavit stated BCH doctors reported the suspected abuse to the Booneville Police Department by an ER doctor after a Computed Tomography (CT) scan revealed bleeding on the brain an swelling and an X-ray revealed old rib fractures.
The baby underwent an emergency surgery at Children’s Hospital in Little Rock, where another doctor, Jerry Jones, who is the director of Arkansas Children’s Hospital’s Team for Children at Risk, determined the baby’s injury was "an abusive head injury caused by someone and the rib fractures indicate prior abuse," the affidavit added.
According to court documents, the state received over 6,000 documents detailing the baby’s injuries and treatments. Those documents had led to the state seeking a continuance from a July 8 trail date until Monday’s rescheduled date.
Facebook pages decrying the baby’s condition were taken down shortly after Smith was charged.
During the investigation Smith told investigators he and Shook were home the day of the incident and the baby was acting normally. He further stated he took the child upstairs to a mattress on a carpeted floor for a nap and that he and the child’s mother went outside for a few minutes.
Smith also indicated he and the woman came into the home a short time later and that he went back upstairs to clean a bath room and, when going to a closet to get supplies to do so he noticed the baby gasping for air. He said the girl was partially off of the mattress and that when he picked her up she was "limp like a noodle."