COEUR d'ALENE - A 21-year-old father was sentenced Friday for the felony offense of injury to a child for the major brain injury his then 20-day-old son suffered while in his care last summer. A doctor said the injury was not accidental and is common with shaken babies.
James D. Blanchard, of Coeur d'Alene, will spend up to the next year in prison completing a program chosen by the Idaho Department of Correction. Through the program, Blanchard may receive treatment and will be evaluated, and then is expected to return to Coeur d'Alene for another hearing in front of 1st District Court Judge John Luster.
Luster sentenced Blanchard to a term of imprisonment of seven to 15 years, but retained jurisdiction and will evaluate whether further imprisonment or probation is appropriate once the prison program is completed.
Kootenai County Deputy Prosecutor Robert Green asked Luster to sentence Blanchard to seven to 15 years in prison.
Blanchard's son, Noah, suffered the brain injury on July 24 of last year, while Blanchard was watching Noah by himself while the mother, Angelina Rey, went to get some Chinese food for dinner. The couple lived with their new child at an apartment at 1042 N. 17th St.
The mother spoke in court Friday about how Noah is affected by his injury, saying he likely will never be able to walk, talk or see.
"His life will be full of challenges," she said. "As a result of this my son was taken from me."
Dr. Brian Hickok, of Lakeside Pediatric in Coeur d'Alene, was Noah's doctor when he arrived at the emergency room the day of the injury, and has continued caring for him.
He said Noah's injury is not consistent with an accident inside a home, and is more likely the result of being violently shaken.
"He'll likely be dependent on a caretaker," Hickok said. "It's very unlikely he'll be able to walk or talk."
He said Noah's vision is lost.
It's not even clear if Noah will ever be able to eat textured foods, he said.
Green said Blanchard didn't call 911 after Noah stopped breathing that day, but instead called Rey, who drove home and then called 911.
Green said Blanchard has taken no responsibility for the injury.
"The only person that was with Noah when this injury occurred was the defendant," Green said.
He said the severity of the crime in this case approaches that of a homicide case, at least in terms of the harm done to the victim.
Public defender Chris Schwartz said there is no evidence Blanchard shook Noah or caused the brain injury.
Schwartz criticized the prosecution for "trying the case" during a sentencing hearing, instead of in front of a jury.
"No one knows what happened to Noah," he said.
If anything, he said, his client is guilty of not taking proper care of his son. Blanchard pleaded guilty this spring.
Schwartz said Blanchard has been punished enough, spending nearly 290 days in Kootenai County jail, following his arrest, and being separated from his son.
Blanchard spoke briefly during the hearing, saying only that he would like to receive probation.
Luster said, "Nobody knows precisely what happened ... There's a lot of unanswered questions in this matter."
Before handing down the sentence, Luster said no punishment would ever help Noah recover.
He told Blanchard that Noah "was injured on your watch."
Luster said he doesn't believe Blanchard can fully grasp the seriousness of the crime.
"Probation would diminish the seriousness of the crime," he said.
Blanchard, who was released on his own recognizance in May, was taken into custody immediately following the hearing Tuesday.