BY JULIE MANGANIS
---- — SALEM — A troubled Salem father, described by his lawyer as “overwhelmed” by the responsibilities of parenthood, admitted yesterday to breaking his baby daughter’s arm and ribs during fits of rage last spring.
Jason McLaughlin, 23, was sentenced to two years in jail after pleading guilty to two counts of assault and battery on a child causing bodily injury. A judge during yesterday’s hearing in Salem Superior Court noted McLaughlin’s lack of maturity.
Judge Howard Whitehead called the case another “tragic and dangerous situation with young people who lack maturity having children,” and perhaps not appreciating how fragile a baby like 3-month-old Miley was at the time.
On the morning of April 6, McLaughlin returned home to the Loring Towers apartment he shared with the child and her mother after working an overnight shift at a local supermarket, prosecutor Jessica Strasnick said.
The baby’s mother went to take a shower, and McLaughlin sat down to play video games on his Xbox. But Miley was fussing as she sat in a swinging chair. She spit out her pacifier at least twice.
McLaughlin, acting out of what his lawyer described as “immaturity and frustration,” yanked on the baby girl’s arm. He would later tell police he heard the sound of her tiny arm snapping and then watched as it turned white.
At first, McLaughlin tried to convince doctors at North Shore Children’s Hospital and the police that he’d accidentally dropped the baby.
Moments later, he burst into tears and confessed the truth.
“I did it. I pulled her from her swing, and I felt her arm snap. I broke her arm, but I didn’t mean to hurt her. She wouldn’t stop crying,” he told police.
Doctors had discovered a clean break on the child’s arm. But they also found rib fractures that had started to heal. McLaughlin confessed that those were his fault, too, after he’d squeezed her in another effort to get her to stop crying a few weeks earlier.
Shortly after his arrest, McLaughlin tried to commit suicide in a police station holding cell.
Strasnick had urged a prison term of three to four years, noting that the injuries to the baby were not the result of a single incident but an indication of a man with an out-of-control temper.
McLaughlin’s lawyer, William O’Hare, suggested that the shorter jail term proposed by Whitehead “showed compassion” for his client, who, he said, has suffered from bipolar disorder, depression and anxiety since the age of 5.
O’Hare said the incidents were triggered by McLaughlin’s “immaturity and frustration.”
Whitehead said he also took into account the fact that McLaughlin confessed, that he expressed a desire to plead guilty soon after he was indicted and that he’s been receiving counseling.
The baby has recovered and is back living with her mother.
McLaughlin’s mother was the only family member in court yesterday.
McLaughlin, who has been in custody since his arrest last April, will be eligible for parole in about three months.
Once he’s released, he will be on supervised probation for five years, with conditions that include anger-management and parenting classes, a mental health evaluation and treatment, and a requirement that he comply with all requirements of the Department of Children and Families.
The case was one of two involving young fathers accused of abusing their children while playing Xbox during a period of several months in 2011 and 2012. In October 2011, 22-year-old Richard Elias of Peabody was charged with head-butting, shaking and squeezing his 7-week-old daughter while his wife was at a Halloween party. Elias is due in court for a status hearing in his case later this month.
Courts reporter Julie Manganis can be reached at 978-338-2521, via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @SNJulieManganis.