VERNAL — A Vernal man who inflicted a life-threatening head injury on his 7-year-old son when he kicked the boy in the face has received the maximum sentences available for the charges to which he pleaded guilty.
Adam Joshua Smith was sentenced Wednesday in 8th District Court to up to five years in prison for child abuse, a third-degree felony. Judge Clark McClellan also sentenced Smith to a pair of one-year jail terms for twice violating a protective order obtained by Smith's wife after they were both charged with child abuse in May.
The three sentences will be served consecutively at the state prison, according to the judge's order.
Smith, 32, was supposed to be sentenced Tuesday. That hearing was nearly finished when Smith told McClellan he was having a hard time following the proceedings due to chronic pain in his hip. The judge agreed to put the hearing on hold for a day to ensure Smith was competent to proceed, then had bailiffs take Smith into custody.
Back in court Wednesday, McClellan said he believed Smith understood every word that was said Tuesday, including an emotional plea from an attorney for his children who asked the judge to send Smith to prison.
"I think that you were emotionally troubled, but I also think you were putting on more of an act than was real. That's my observation," McClellan said, later making a finding that Smith was "fully aware of what is going on."
Smith told the judge he "feels like crap" for being "so harsh" to his son and daughter, who are both under the age of 8.
"I know it's no excuse," Smith said, "but I had been going through a lot of pain and turmoil, even more so knowing that I was mean to my babies. If I could take it back, I would."
Police and prosecutors say Smith and his wife, Karysa, lied to doctors on April 4, claiming their son had fallen down a flight of five ceramic stairs at home. The boy was treated and released, but he was brought back to the hospital several days later when a caseworker from the Division of Child and Family Services noticed more severe bruising, investigators said.
A CAT scan showed a large amount of blood under the boy's scalp, court records state. A forensic nurse who examined the boy said the injury can cause a substantial risk of death for a child and was "difficult to explain by a fall down five stairs."
During an interview, the boy told investigators his father kicked him in the face, causing his head to hit a gun safe, court records state. The child said "his father did this several times," investigators said.
Adam and Karysa Smith also "beat" or "spanked" their child with a belt, according to charging documents.
The Smiths ultimately accepted plea agreements from prosecutors that required them to surrender their parental rights to both their children. McClellan voiced concern Wednesday about a possible plan to have Adam Smith's parents adopt the children.
"That almost always means that the son, their son, would be involved with the children in other parts of their lives and I don't know that that is in their interest," the judge said. "If we are going to expose (the children) to Mr. Smith again, I have real reservations about that placement."
McClellan also criticized media coverage of the sentence he handed down to Karysa Smith. She was sentenced to 18 months of probation and 130 hours of community service after reaching a deal with prosecutors and entering a no contest plea to child abuse, a second-degree felony, and pleading guilty to obstruction of justice, a class B misdemeanor.
Karysa Smith's child abuse conviction will be dismissed if she has no new criminal violations during her time on probation, according to the terms of her plea deal, which required her to testify truthfully against her husband if his case ever went to trial.
"I think the mother's behavior was abhorrent. I don't think it rose anywhere near to the level of Mr. Smith's and I understand why the state made the deal it did," McClellan said, adding that he believed using a plea agreement to secure Karysa Smith's testimony against her husband was "an appropriate use of prosecutorial discretion."