A 25-year-old Fairbanks man was sentenced Monday to serve seven years in prison for abusing his 8-month-old son two years ago.
The boy suffered severe brain damage, has cerebral palsy, cannot walk, talk, crawl or eat solid food, and had a stroke that left him paralyzed on his right side. His father, Ronald Lawrence McGriff, was charged Sept. 21, 2017, with one count of felony first-degree assault for knowingly engaging in conduct that results in serious physical injury to another under circumstances manifesting extreme indifference to the value of human life.
On Aug. 1, 2019, McGriff pleaded no contest, meaning he did not contest the charge but also did not admit to it.
It was agreed that the court would impose a sentence between five and nine years, which was the statutory range for the charge at the time of the child’s injuries.
According to a criminal complaint filed in Fairbanks court, McGriff took his son to Fairbanks Memorial Hospital the night of Aug. 5, 2017, with severe brain injuries and red marks on his body. McGriff initially told Fairbanks police he had a normal night at home with the child and later noticed he was unresponsive in his crib. The baby was medically evacuated to Providence Hospital in Anchorage and police were told he would likely be profoundly neurologically impaired if he survived.
Fairbanks Assistant District Attorney Andrew Baldock listed the baby’s injuries during Monday’s sentencing hearing.
“His brain had swollen beyond the capacity of his head and had expanded downward into the base of his skull. They also observed scratches to his chest that were thought to be whip marks. On Aug. 6, 2017, he had an operation at Providence to remove the pressure on his brain and during the surgery a piece of his skull had to be removed,” Baldock said, noting the baby was then transported to Seattle Children’s Hospital for another surgery.
On Sept. 20, 2017, McGriff agreed to take a polygraph test at FPD, which he failed. He then told police he had been angry with his wife and frustrated with his job the night of the incident. McGriff said the baby had been feverish and vomiting for the past week, and he put him on the floor after his wife left to attend a work party with a friend. The baby began to cry and McGriff kicked him about four feet through the air into a cabinet. The baby fell about 11/2 feet to the floor and continued to cry, at which point McGriff picked him up and began to shake him.
“The defendant then indicated that he yelled at his son to stop crying and continued to shake him until the point he could see his son’s eyes roll back and his pupils were not tracking along the same path. And then he threw his son onto the couch. He stated at that point, his son’s body went limp and unresponsive. That, again, short of murder, is as serious as an offense can come,” Baldock said, noting it was only through the efforts of doctors at FMH, Providence and the Seattle Children’s Hospital that the baby survived and McGriff was not charged with second-degree murder.
Baldock cited the “morally repugnant” nature of the crime before asking Fairbanks Superior Court Judge Michael McConahy to sentence McGriff to the maximum nine years in prison. McGriff’s public defender, Jonathan Biderman, asked McConahy to “focus on rehabilitation” and sentence his client to nine years with four suspended, citing the fact this was McGriff’s first felony offense.
Given a chance to address the court, McGriff said he “didn’t do what they say I did,” and he’d “rather be on a plane to North Carolina.” McGriff said he also hoped to open his own restaurant someday.
McConahy said he thought a significant period of incarceration with some supervised release was appropriate, given the serious nature of the child’s injuries and the fact he would never recover. McConahy sentenced McGriff to nine years with two suspended, leaving a total of seven years to serve. McGruff will be on probation for seven years after his release.
Contact staff writer Dorothy Chomicz at 459-7582. Follow her on Twitter: @FDNMcrime.