Sunday, December 2, 2007

Bay man indicted in death of child

By David Angier News Herald Writer 747-5077 /


A grand jury heard testimony all morning Friday before indicting Robert Nathan Sturdivant of first-degree murder in the death of a 2-year-old boy.

Jurors found probable cause that Sturdivant, 26, committed first-degree felony murder by slamming Isaiah Howard into a wall Nov. 9. Isaiah, Sturdivant and the boy’s mother lived together in an apartment at 1451 Betty Lane. Felony murder means there was no premeditation involved, but Sturdivant still could face the death penalty if convicted as charged.

Jurors found Sturdivant was engaged in aggravated child abuse, the second count of the indictment, when he allegedly killed the boy. The indictment reads that Sturdivant committed aggravated child abuse by torturing or maliciously punishing Isaiah.

Sturdivant is scheduled for a court appearance Dec. 27, but the State Attorney’s Office said he will have a first appearance on the new charge today.

Police said Sturdivant struck the child in the back of the head, sending him headfirst into a wall, and left him lying on the floor for an hour before calling for help. The Bay County Medical Examiner said blunt force trauma caused the boy’s death.

Florida’s Department of Children and Families investigated Sturdivant and the child’s mother in September after Isaiah was treated for a broken arm.

Sturdivant’s lawyer, Deputy Public Defender Walter Smith, said he expected the indictment.

Smith said he’s seen these types of cases too often. In October 2001, Christopher Morrison was charged with killing his girlfriend’s 3-year-old son by hitting him on the head and kicking him in the abdomen. The child died of a ruptured liver.

Morrison was convicted of first-degree murder in August 2002, but the jury spared him the death penalty in a split vote.

“They’re all the same kind of scenario: a young male who is thrust into a caregiver position who doesn’t know how to do it,” Smith said.

He said he believes jurors narrowly voted against the death penalty for Morrison because he showed remorse for the death.

Smith said there are numerous cases of men left with other people’s children losing their temper in attempting to care for the children and lashing out violently.

“A lot of times, when there’s no relationship between the man and the child, the man has no coping skills to deal with a child,” Smith said. “They lose their temper and bad things happen.”

These types of cases, Smith said, almost always get charged as first-degree murder. He said the aggravating circumstances, the legal elements the state has to prove to justify a death sentence, are obvious: a vulnerable victim, a victim younger than 12 and the killing was committed during child abuse.

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