Sentence reduction denied for ex-Marine who fatally injured daughter

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VISTA, Calif.  — A state appeals court panel Wednesday upheld a 25-year-to- life prison sentence for a former Escondido man convicted of fatally injuring his nearly 6-week-old daughter.

Lee Trahan was convicted in 2015 in the death of his daughter Willow, who suffered blunt force trauma to the head. Trahan testified that he was holding the infant and preparing to feed her about 3 a.m. on April 24, 2012, when he felt her start to roll from his grasp and her head struck a door frame at their home.

In its ruling, a three-justice panel from California’s 4th District Court of Appeal noted that the deputy medical examiner who conducted an autopsy on the baby stated that the degree of force that caused her head trauma was “comparable to a serious car accident, a fall from a great height, or a television falling on a child’s head.”

Defense experts had maintained that the baby’s injuries could have been the result of a metabolic bone condition, premature birth or other natural causes.

The appellate panel’s ruling notes that Trahan and his wife, Jessica, decided not to take their daughter to the hospital, as there was already an open Child Protective Services case regarding bruising the infant sustained earlier that month.

She was hospitalized three days after Trahan said she struck the door frame, and died 10 days later.

According to the prosecution, Trahan deleted text messages from his and his wife’s phones related to him striking the baby and getting angry with her.

A Vista jury acquitted Trahan of second-degree murder, but found him guilty of voluntary manslaughter and assault on a child causing death. Jessica Trahan was convicted of misdemeanor child abuse for failing to take the baby to a doctor and was sentenced to four years probation and ordered to do 200 hours of volunteer work.

The manslaughter count typically carries an 11-year sentence, which is the punishment that a judge initially imposed. Prosecutors, who had sought 25 years to life, appealed, and an appeals court panel previously ruled that term could be imposed for the assault causing death count — and he was resentenced last year.

In his appeal, Trahan’s attorneys argued that he should have been granted probation, or at the most, the 11-year manslaughter sentence. They contended that the trial judge abused his discretion in denying probation, though the appeals court ruled that the seriousness of the crime and the defendant’s “position of trust” regarding his daughter were relevant factors that the trial judge properly took into consideration.

Trahan also argued that the 25-years-to-life sentence constituted cruel and unusual punishment, but again the appellate court disagreed, citing the serious conduct involved.

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