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Baby mistreatment sentence exceptional

Eric Flores showed little emotion Thursday when Island County Judge Vickie Churchill handed him an exceptional five-year sentence for criminal mistreatment.

Flores, a 22-year-old Oak Harbor man, went on trial earlier this year on charges of second-degree murder, first-degree assault and criminal mistreatment in the death of his wife’s six-week-old baby.

The jury, however, was not able to reach a consensus — a hung jury — on the murder or assault charges, but convicted him of criminal mistreatment.

Baby Aeriq died early in the morning of Dec. 26, 2000, from severe brain trauma. While the cause of the baby’s injuries remains unresolved, Flores’ conviction for mistreatment stems from his decision to not seek medical help for the ailing child.

While the criminal mistreatment charge has a standard range of just one to three months in jail, Chief Criminal Deputy Prosecutor Steve Selby asked for the maximum exceptional sentence of five years based on the vulnerability of the infant, the fact that Flores didn’t tell a babysitter about the child’s condition, and that the lack of medical treatment led to the child’s death.

“This case represents a worst-case scenario” for criminal mistreatment, Selby said. “Baby Aeriq did not ask to be born, but he certainly deserved to live.”

Under state law, a judge can deviate from the standard sentence range, and impose an exceptional sentence, if the facts in the case involved one or more of a list of aggravating factors, such as the vulnerability of the victim or the cruelty of the crime.

Flores’ attorney, Susan Gaer of Snohomish County, said her client deeply regrets not getting medical treatment for baby Aeriq, but he simply didn’t realize how bad the injuries were at the time. She pointed to Flores’ preoccupation with his marital problems and his inexperience with children.

Yet Churchill ruled that, specifically, the baby’s vulnerability warranted an exceptional sentence 20 times the standard range.

“I believe a one to three month sentence would be a terrible injustice in this case,” Churchill said. “The baby deserved to live, no matter who the father was.”

The victim was the child of Flores’ wife, who became pregnant while he was on Navy deployment. The couple had marital problems that culminated on Christmas Day 2000 when she attempted to commit suicide and was taken away by paramedics.

Flores was left alone with the baby and his toddler daughter. He claimed that when he got out of the shower he found that the baby had fallen from a bed onto the floor. He said the baby cried for an hour and had a wandering eye.

Flores then went to pick up his wife that night and dropped the baby off at a couple’s house. He didn’t tell them about the baby’s fall, but said the shut and wandering eye was caused by a cold. Yet Flores then went back home before picking up his wife, called his mother and told her about what was wrong with the baby.

Selby had tried to prove Flores murdered the infant by putting paramedics on the stand who testified the baby seemed uninjured at 2 p.m. on Christmas. After that time, Flores was alone with the baby. All the experts testified that the injury could not have been caused by an 18-inch fall off a bed onto carpeting, which Flores originally suggested was the cause of the injury.

Gaer, however, suggested that Flores’ wife could have assaulted the baby, pointing out that the troubled young woman may have been alone with the baby earlier in the day.

At the sentencing hearing Thursday, Gaer said Flores will be kicked out of the Navy because of the conviction and the exceptional sentence.

Churchill ruled that Flores is a great flight risk and must be jailed immediately. She set his bond pending appeal at $200,000.

You can reach Jessie Stensland at jstensland@whidbeynewstimes.com or call 675-6611.

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