Saturday, August 23, 2003

Man gets 14 years for death of toddler

Judge lashes out at attorney before sentence

By Jim Hannah
The Cincinnati Enquirer

INDEPENDENCE - Though he expressed concern about how a plea agreement was reached, a Kenton County circuit judge followed the plea's recommendation by sentencing a man Friday afternoon to 14 years in prison for the death of a toddler in February 2001.

Christopher W. Scarber, 28, of Milan, Ind., admitted causing injuries to Jacob Troy Donskey that led to the 2-year-old's death at University Hospital a day later.

"This is filed reluctantly, but I think there needs to be closure for everyone," said Kenton County Circuit Judge Steven Jaeger during the sentencing. "This has gone on long enough."

[IMAGE] Angela Donskey mother of Jacob Donskey, listens during a sentencing hearing for Scarber.
(Patrick Reddy photo)
Scarber faced 20 years to life on a murder charge for Jacob's death before reaching the deal with Kenton County Commonwealth Attorney William Crockett on July 14.

The charge against Scarber was reduced to first-degree manslaughter, punishable by 10 to 20 years in prison, in exchange for admitting he caused the injuries that led to the toddler's death.

Crockett first recommended the minimum of 10 years but increased it to 14 years in order to get Jaeger's approval. Scarber will be eligible for parole after serving 85 percent of his time.

The plea almost unraveled on Tuesday, however, after Jaeger learned Crockett had not informed Jacob's mother of the plea agreement, despite telling the court the family approved of the deal.

Jaeger lashed out at Crocket from the bench on Tuesday, calling him a "liar" and "spin artist." Friday afternoon, the judge continued by lecturing Crockett about his obligations to the community as an elected official.

"The court wants to make sure Mr. Crockett does the job the citizens deserve," Jaeger said.

Crockett responded to the criticism by saying he consulted with Jacob's maternal grandmother, the legal guardian of the child. Crockett said he did not speak to Jacob's mother, who does not have custody of her remaining children.

Jaeger ordered Crockett Friday to go behind closed doors and explain to Jacob's family his rationale for reaching the plea agreement.

After stepping out of the hastily scheduled meeting, Jacob's paternal grandfather, William St. John, spoke to the judge: "Do we like this plea agreement? No. Do we now think it is reasonable? Yes.

"As to what is equitable, we leave it up to someone in the justice system ... to reach a decision."

Jaeger said to avoid any confusion in the future, he will require Crockett to submit a form listing who in the victim's family was consulted about any plea agreements.

Crockett said he will comply, adding that he has hired an additional victim's advocate to better keep in touch with victims and their families.

Scarber, a former part-time security guard, sat quietly during Friday's sentencing. His attorneys and parents, who were present, declined to comment afterward.

Jacob died at University Hospital on Feb. 6, 2001, after suffering head injuries the day before at his grandmother's home in Independence. The maternal grandmother left Jacob, his 5-year-old sister and 6-month-old brother with baby sitter Karen Walton, whom police described as Scarber's girlfriend. The boy died from head injuries, possibly from being kicked.

Walton was indicted on first-degree criminal abuse for failing to render aid to the injured Jacob. Crockett later withdrew the charge after doctors said it was unlikely Jacob would have lived even if he had received immediate medical care.


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