Columbus man sentenced to 20 years for killing baby

By Lindsey Connell - bio | email | Twitter

COLUMBUS, GA (WTVM)  - A Columbus man accused of violently shaking a baby to death will spend the next 20 years behind bars for the crime.

In a plea agreement with the state, 41-year-old Ivan Johnson pled guilty to one count of voluntary manslaughter in Muscogee County Superior Court Monday.

Johnson was originally charged with murder and cruelty to children in the death of 14-month-old Jaylen Love but those charges were dismissed as a result of his plea deal.

Assistant District Attorney LaRae Moore says Johnson, a father of four, was taking care of Jaylen back in February of 2008. Jaylen's mother was in basic training at Fort Jackson in South Carolina and she had no one else to leave her infant with, according to Moore. At the time, Johnson's wife was deployed to Iraq and he was caring for all five children by himself.

On February 28, 2008, Moore says Jaylen was rushed to the Medical Center with a head injury and was later taken off life support after being airlifted to Egleston Children's Hospital in Atlanta.

An autopsy done by the medical examiner, prosecutors say, showed the baby suffered from bleeding over his entire brain, consistent with abusive head trauma and being violently shaken.

Back in Columbus, Moore says Johnson told authorities several different versions of what happened with the child in his care- allegedly claiming the baby choked first, then saying he fell off the bed and lastly stating his was too rough with the baby when they were playing, throwing him on the bed.

But since there was no indication that Johnson had abused the baby or any of his own children before and since he did not intentionally set out to kill Jaylen, Moore says the guilty plea to a lesser charge was put on the table instead of presenting the case to a jury and Johnson accepted it.

"We had no evidence that he was just a mean father or mean person and deliberately set out to cause harm to this child. There was no evidence of that. However, there was evidence that he violently shook this child," Moore told WTVM.

In court, Jaylen's mother told Johnson he "took a new life that didn't even have a chance" and Johnson turned to her and apologized, saying he never meant to hurt her son.

Johnson's attorney, Richard Hagler, told the court Jaylen had acute pneumonia at the time of his death and his breathing was labored. Hagler says the baby started to throw up and Johnson tried to keep him from choking.

"Ivan was reluctant to take the plea because I think to this day, he does not understand what of his actions could have caused the internal bleeding that resulted in the death of this child but yet the injuries that did occur to the child had to have occurred while in Ivan's care. It's one of those cases where there really are no winners and an awful lot of losers on both sides of the families involved so it's a tragic case," Hagler said in an interview with WTVM.

Muscogee County Superior Court Judge Frank Jordan sentenced Ivan Johnson to 20 years in a state penitentiary. That is the maximum sentence for the charge of voluntary manslaughter in the state of Georgia. Johnson's lawyer says he will be eligible for parole.

©2010 WTVM. All rights reserved.