20-year terms handed down in scalding case

Friday, November 21, 2008

A Marshall County couple pleaded guilty Wednesday of aggravated child abuse in connection with the scalding of a 3-year-old boy who was placed in a bathtub with hot water about three inches deep, officials said.

The boy's mother, Linda May Rowell, 27, and her boyfriend, Hilario Perez, 25, were sentenced to 20 years in state prison, by Circuit Court Judge Robert Crigler who noted they've been in the Marshall County Jail for 366 days.

"This is about as close to a 100 percent sentence as there is in Tennessee law," District Attorney Chuck Crawford said after noting, "They have a possibility o earning 15 percent good time."

Without trouble in prison, they might be released in late 2024.

Rowell and Perez were living at 2170 Franklin Pike in the fall last year when she ran hot water in the tub for her son, according to Perez's lawyer, Richard Dugger of Shelbyville. As she tended a crying baby, she told Perez to make the boy take a bath. Holding the child under his knees and at his shoulder blades, Perez placed the boy into the tub.

"The water was way too hot," Dugger said. "In his culture, in Mexico, the women take care of the babies."

Crawford prosecuted these cases with indictments from the December 2007 grand jury and more from the grand jury in February this year because more injuries were discovered. A new set of indictments were obtained in September after Dugger alleged in a petition that the charges lacked clarity. The defendants pleaded guilty to the charges issued two months ago.

"These cases cut to the core," Crawford said. "No punishment that any court could mete out would be sufficient, but 20 years is a serious sentence."

It's also what was available to the judge under state sentencing laws.

"It's a horrible situation," the defense attorney said. "It's a matter of cross cultural standards of life, and that's what we get into with the migration problem in America."

Dugger does not know if Perez entered this country illegally, he said.

The defense attorney, however, filed a petition asking the judge to rule that immigration status is irrelevant in such a case nd therefore inadmissible if Perez faced a jury.

Perez "admitted putting the child in the tub," according to the prosecutor, who described the child as horribly scalded.

Photos of the boy's buttocks were taken by medical staff at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville and are included in the case files.

"While receiving treatment for those burns, the doctor discovered over 60 untreated wounds, including unset broken bones, bruises, black eyes and other burns, some of those being consistent with burns by a cigarette," Crawford said.

Asked why the boy was abused, the attorney general replied, "It's beyond explanation."

The victim and Rowell's other children "have been placed in a loving home," Crawford said. "I have met the foster father and the children are being well taken care of now."

Judge Crigler sentenced Perez and Rowell in conjunction with plea agreements presented to him by Crawford on behalf of the defendants and their lawyers. Rowell was represented by Jheri Beth Rich of Lewisburg.

The plea agreements were reached after lengthy discussions between attorneys.

"Mr. Crawford and I looked at all the facts and the statements," Dugger said. "Based on that, application of the law and the statements, I came to the conclusion that Mr. Perez did place the child in the bath tub.

"And he stated that all along," Dugger said.

Rowell was present when the boy was place in the hot water, he said.

"Her conviction was, as I understand it, based on two broken bones that were never taken care of," Dugger said.

Sheriff's Detective Bart Fagan wrote in warrant last year that the boy had also been whipped with a belt. Fagan investigated with the help of Lewisburg Police Detective Santiago McKlean because he and Perez speak Spanish.

McKlean reported that Perez made statements of regret when questioned by the county detective as the city detective served as interpretor.

It's not illegal to name such victims, but the Tribune has refrained from doing so in this and previous stories on this case. The boy's last name is not that of either defendant.

If Perez is in the United States illegally, that would be determined by the Tennessee Department of Corrections. Immigration and Customs Enforcement deport illegal immigrants, but such state convicts usually serve their time and are then deported. If they return and are caught, federal charges are prosecuted.