Carthage man convicted of abusing his infant daughter

May 3—Jurors, who convicted Hunter Kelley late Thursday of both endangering and abusing his 2-month-old daughter four years ago, decided on Friday that he should receive sentences of eight years and two years.

A jury of six men and six women deliberated for seven hours Thursday before returning verdicts finding the 25-year-old Carthage man guilty of two of the three felony counts he was facing.

Those verdicts show they believed the state had proved beyond a reasonable doubt that Kelley shook his daughter Amelia on Sept. 12, 2020, causing the injury that landed her in critical care at Mercy Hospital Springfield.

On the Class B felony conviction for child abuse, which carries a mandatory minimum of five years, or up to 15 years in prison, their recommendation was an eight-year term.

The jury opted for a misdemeanor count of child endangerment on the other felony abuse allegation filed with respect to a preceding event Sept. 2, 2020, about which Kelley initially told the girl's mother that he'd had to perform cardiopulmonary resuscitation on their baby. On that count, the jury decided that he should receive no more than a fine to be determined by the court.

For failing to inform doctors of the first event — the basis for the felony endangerment conviction — the jury recommended a two-year term. The conviction carried a punishment range of up to seven years.

Judge Gayle Crane, who set a sentencing hearing date of July 8, had ordered Kelley taken back into custody following the jury's verdicts Thursday night.

Assistant Prosecutor Scott Watson, who sought the full 15-year term on the abuse count, told the Globe that Kelley must serve a mandatory minimum of five of the eight years on the abuse conviction before he will be eligible for parole. It will be up to the judge to decide if the jury sentencing is appropriate and if the recommended sentences should run concurrently or consecutively.

Watson, who had Amelia wheeled into the galley of the courtroom in her chair at the end of closing arguments on Thursday to allow jurors to view her condition today, called her mother as the prosecution's lone witness in the sentencing phase.

Lauren Bonnett testified that Amelia, who is not expected to live past the age of 5, cannot see, cannot speak and requires 24-hour care, which Bonnett and her parents provide five days a week with the assistance of a visiting nurse the other two days.

She said they have borne the financial burden of medical care for Amelia through a combination of government programs, grants and her mother's credit card.

Kelsey Kent, co-counsel for the defense, called six friends and fellow church members of the defendant, to testify that they do not believe he poses any threat to the public and could, if released, prove to be a positive force in the community in which he lives.

His pastor said he could not think of anyone who has more "integrity, honesty and willingness to do the Lord's work" than the defendant. A woman who has known him since he was 4 years old testified that Kelley has been "a tremendous asset" to her and her family as well as the local 4-H program and library where she works.

"Hunter is not a monster," Kent told the jury in summary. "This is an insanely difficult situation for everyone."

Watson told jurors after the defense's witnesses had all spoken on Kelley's behalf that he heard what they had to say and respected their viewpoint.

"We hold people responsible every day for things they 'didn't mean to do,'" Watson said and drew an analogy to a drunken driver who unintentionally causes the death of another through the recklessness of his decision to drive in that condition.

He said it makes no difference to Amelia now whether her father either recklessly or purposefully did what he did. The result for her has been a death sentence, he said.

Her mother was left with the memory she'll never forget of her daughter's scream the night she sustained her head injury, Watson said, before asking jurors to hear Amelia's "cry for justice" the final day of her father's trial.

Jeff Lehr is a reporter for The Joplin Globe.