Baby sitter to serve 5 years in boy's death

Amari Jackson's mother, Sara Hicks, cried and lunged toward Sharon Patterson in the courtroom Tuesday when Patterson tried to apologize for her negligence in Amari's death by dehydration.

The emotional scene came just after Superior Court Judge Bruce W. Thompson imposed a 10-year sentence on Patterson, to be suspended after she serves five years.

Judicial marshals quickly prevented Hicks from getting close to Patterson, then pushed Hicks out of the courtroom. She could be heard crying loudly in the corridor and exclaiming, "Five years !"

Late Tuesday afternoon, Hicks called the sentence "a disgrace" and the trial "a mockery of his death."

"Shegotoffwithmurder,"Hicks said. "The marshals should've let me go (at Patterson). If they had, justice would've been served."

Thompson, who June 16 found Patterson guilty of criminally negligent homicide, two counts of risk of injury to a child and two counts of intentional cruelty, could have imposed a prison sentence of up to 31 years. But he decided Patterson's cognitive disabilities (she is classified as "mildly mentally retarded") mitigated the sentence.

The sentencing marks the end of a case that began the morning of Feb. 26, 2008, when Hamden police went to the Putnam Avenue apartment Patterson shared with her brother, Robert Patterson, and found 23-month-old Amari unresponsive. He was taken to Yale-New Haven Hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

The office of the chief state medical examiner ruled Amari died from dehydration. Police said Amari was deprived of liquids for at least seven days, and Sharon Patterson fed him hot sauce to discourage him from drinking out of people's glasses and wetting beds.

Hicks, now 21, said she left Amari with Patterson because Hicks was pregnant and suffering from morning sickness. She said she didn't know Patterson has a mental disability.

Robert Patterson said he had been concerned about Amari and had told his sister she should give him fluids, but then he left for work. He pleaded guilty to risk of injury to a minor and received a suspended five-year prison sentence. Senior Assistant State's Attorney Michael Pepper has said Robert Patterson's role in Amari's death was "arguably passive."

During legal arguments Tuesday, Pepper told Thompson that Sharon Patterson, now 40, should receive a "significant" sentence because "over approximately 10 days, she tortured this child."

Pepper charged Patterson "purposely deprived him of water and purposely served him hot sauce as a form of punishment." When she was questioned by police after Amari's death, he asserted, she tried to cover up what she had done by giving different versions of events.

Pepper said, "I can't imagine the suffering" the boy endured. He described Patterson's actions as "flat-out cruel."

But defense attorney Joseph E. Lopez said, "I don't think Miss Patterson is a monster." He added that she is "not a mean person."

Lopez noted psychiatric experts found Patterson's ability to make moral judgments were that of a 6-year-old.

"She has had a very hard life," Lopez added. "Her mother was an alcoholic and had substance abuse issues. She (Sharon Patterson) was raped at the age of 12. Five of her children have been taken away from her for various issues."

Co-defense attorney Scott Jones said Hamden police misunderstood her statements. "She said she did in fact give Amari water. She did not intentionally deprive him of water over an extended period of time."

When Hicks addressed Thompson, reading from a statement, she asked for "the most severe sentence the law allows." But she added, "There is no sentence sufficient for what happened to my son, not even death."

Hicks noted she has two other children, "but there is no love greater than that of a mother for her first-born child."

She charged Patterson was "getting high and drunk while my son was dying." She concluded, "Today I cry out for justice for Amari."

Thompson declared it "one of the most difficult cases I've had. ... I have a child whose life has been cut off before it could really begin and a mother who's devastated. There is a defendant with significant cognitive disabilities, which is why I acquitted her of manslaughter."

Thompson said the evidence showed Patterson "did not appreciate the fact that what she did could lead to the death of Amari Jackson. But the evidence shows there were deliberate actions with reckless disregard for the consequences."

Heimposedthe10-yearsentence, suspended after five years, for one of the risk of injury to a minor counts. On the other risk of injury count, he imposed a one-year sentence, to be served concurrently.

For negligent homicide, Thompson imposed a one-year sentence, also concurrent and three-year concurrent sentences on two cruelty counts. After her release, Patterson will face five years of probation.

When Thompson asked Patterson if she had anything to say, Patterson said, "I'm sorry," but the rest of her remarks were never delivered because of Hicks' outburst.