A Haverhill father of three was sentenced to life in prison yesterday
after admitting he stomped the life out of a 2-year-old girl because he
could not hear a television over the sound of her crying.
James Douglas, 20, pleaded guilty to second-degree murder before Salem
Superior Court Judge Richard E. Welch, admitting he stomped on toddler
Amanda Brown's abdomen a year ago because he could not hear a Saturday
afternoon re-run of the TV sitcom ``Grace Under Fire.''
``I'm just happy that he got life. I can move on now,'' said Mary Brown,
the girl's mother.
``She was my world. I'm going to miss her,'' said Amanda's father, Scott
Leatham. ``I'm glad he got what he got.''
Douglas agreed to plead guilty to a reduced charge to avoid being
convicted of first-degree murder, which carries a life sentence with no
chance for parole. He will be eligible for parole after 15 years.
``It was a very strong case for second-degree murder,'' said Essex
County Assistant District Attorney Fred McAlary. ``I think he did the
right thing by changing his plea.''
Douglas and his girlfriend, Karen Brown, who is Mary Brown's sister,
were taking care of their three children and Mary Brown's four children
in the third-floor apartment at 23 Cedar St. in Haverhill the day of the
Aug. 29, 1998, attack.
While Karen Brown played outside with four of the children, three
youngsters, including Amanda, stayed inside while Douglas watched
television, McAlary said.
After once yelling at Amanda to ``shut up'' because he could not hear
the television, Douglas stormed into a bedroom and stomped on the girl's
stomach when her crying again interrupted his program. When Douglas
checked on the girl two hours later, he ``found her cold and not
breathing,'' McAlary said.
The girl was pronounced dead a short time later at Hale Hospital.
When investigators confronted Douglas several days later with autopsy
results that concluded the girl had died from blunt trauma to the
abdomen, Douglas confessed to the assault and recreated the incident for
state police detectives Lt. Elaine Gill and Sgt. Jack Garvin.
``When he showed us how he stomped her, the whole floor shook,'' said
Garvin. ``This is something like the 10th child death I have
investigated and they don't get any easier.''
Douglas did not address the court, but his attorney, Michael Hickey,
said Douglas ``has continually expressed to me nothing but the utmost
remorse for this and the grief it has caused.''
Laura Letendre said outside the courtroom she cannot shake the memory of
``I was the first one to hold her and I really feel the loss of this
child. It's an open pain that will never go away.''