Updated: Sentence on hold in infant assault

Pending an appeal, Alan R. Hackney could serve 3 years in prison.

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WALLA WALLA — An area man convicted of assaulting his infant daughter early this year was sentenced Monday to three years in prison.

Alan R. Hackney, 21, was ordered to serve the midpoint of the 31- to 41-month standard-range term he faced.

But Hackney is appealing his conviction and Superior Court Judge John Lohrmann is allowing Hackney to remain free — with conditions — pending the outcome of that appeal through the state’s higher courts.

If Hackney ultimately loses or violates conditions, he will serve the three-year term.

A jury convicted him in a trial last month of second-degree assault of a child — domestic violence.

Officials said he intentionally assaulted Sophia J. Hackney at their residence at 2107 Granite Drive on Jan. 4. He acknowledged having dropped his baby, but said it was accidental.

Sophia, who was 1-month old at the time, suffered fractured skull bones, but apparently has made a full recovery and continues to live with her mother, Robyn Herald.

The guilty verdict stunned Hackney and his attorney, Richard Wernette, who argued at Monday’s sentencing hearing there was insufficient evidence presented at the trial to convict his client.

Wernette asked Lohrmann to set aside the verdict in the interest of justice because of the weakness of the prosecution’s case or to order a new trial.

Lohrmann rejected the motions, saying he cannot substitute his judgment for that of the jury.

He acknowledged there were no witnesses when Sophia was injured and the skull-bone fractures themselves don’t provide clues as to whether they were purposely or accidentally inflicted. But he said additional circumstantial evidence, such as Hackney lying afterward and trying to conceal Sophia’s injuries, was sufficient for the jury to render a guilty verdict.

It is unusual for a judge to stay a prison sentence, delaying its imposition. However, Lohrmann said Hackney isn’t an immediate danger to the community or Sophia. And because it might take up to two years for an appeal to reach a final conclusion, Lohrmann said he doesn’t want to “destroy the relationship” between Hackney and his daughter. Hackney will continue to be allowed visits with her, supervised by his parents.

Lohrmann also ordered him to pay $8,365 in costs and fees, including more than $6,500 in restitution.

Before the sentence was imposed, Hackney told the judge the jury made a mistake.

“I’m an innocent man,” he said, adding, “I love (my daughter) very much. I would never, ever hurt her.”

Wernette said Hackney has a lot of good qualities, comes from a good family and urged a low-end sentence of 31 months.

Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Michelle Mulhern, on the other hand, argued for a high-end, 41-month prison term, pointing out the child’s particular vulnerability at such a young age. “Sophia was completely helpless,” Mulhern said.

In the end, Lohrmann chose the midpoint of three years, saying he saw no mitigating or aggravating circumstances to depart from that.

Mulhern believes Hackney grabbed his child by the throat because she was crying, gave her a shake, and the back of her head contacted a hard surface of some kind.

Hackney reportedly told the jury at last month’s trial he accidentally dropped Sophia when he was in the process of moving her from a changing table to a blanket on the carpeted floor. He said he had her in one hand when she fell.

Two pediatricians from Providence Sacred Heart Children’s Hospital in Spokane, where Sophia was treated, testified the baby’s injuries were “non-accidental in nature,” according to Mulhern. A third pediatrician said they were “the result of abusive injuries.”

But local neurologist Dr. Toomas Eisler concluded in a report her injuries were consistent with being dropped because fractured skull bones in someone so young require minimal force.

The original story about Hackney's conviction, published Monday, Oct. 14, is below.

WALLA WALLA — An area man convicted of assaulting his infant daughter early this year was sentenced Monday afternoon to three years in prison.

Alan R. Hackney, 21, was ordered to serve the midpoint of the 31- to 41-month standard-range term he faced.

But Superior Court Judge John Lohrmann is allowing Hackney to remain out of prison pending the outcome of his appeal of his conviction.

Following a trial last month, a jury found Hackney guilty of second-degree assault of a child — domestic violence.

Officials said he intentionally assaulted Sophia J. Hackney at their residence at 2107 Granite Drive on Jan. 4. He acknowledged having dropped his baby, but said it was accidental.

Sophia, who was 1-month old at the time, suffered a fractured skull and apparently has made a full recovery.

Terry McConn can be reached at terrymcconn@wwub.com or 526-8319.

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