A man accused of shaking his infant son in December 2012, causing fatal injuries that led to criminal charges in October 2013, pleaded guilty to second-degree murder Wednesday in Wake County Superior Court.
Demetrius Lashawne Morant, 31, entered the plea as part of an arrangement with prosecutors to avoid a life sentence associated with the first-degree murder charge he initially faced.
Morant was accused of violently shaking his 9-week-old son Jrue on Dec. 26, 2012. Health-care workers at Duke University who saw and treated the infant said the injury was so grave that it killed most of the gray and white matter in his brain. They also said his retina had been detached from the action and there was evidence of broken bones and other injuries that did not mesh with the father’s initial description of what happened.
Jrue lived nine more months, dying on Oct. 8, 2013, nearly one month shy of his first birthday.
Morant initially told police that his son had some kind of “medical episode” and that he gave him cardiopulmonary resuscitation before placing him back in the crib.
The child’s mother, who had been at work out of the home when the episode occurred, took the boy to the hospital after being troubled by the infant’s unusual behavior.
Eric Gibney, a Raleigh detective who testified at the plea hearing Wednesday, said Morant later “made a comment that in the heat of the moment he may have shaken Jrue and squeezed a little too hard.”
The hearing on Wednesday, attended mostly by family members of Morant, was emotional throughout.
Faith Newton, the mother of the infant and Morant’s longtime girlfriend, asked the judge for leniency in the sentencing phase.
Newton and Morant met in college in South Carolina and have remained “best friends” through the good and tough times. Morant had been a student in Wake County pursuing health-care classes, but was not enrolled at the time of the incident.
The couple had wanted a child for many years before Jrue came into their life, an event that Faith Newton described as “the best and happiest moment” in their lives.
Newton became emotional while describing the man she called her “best friend.” She said the descriptions of him as a murderer did not fit the man she had come to know as a star athlete in high school and a man who kept in close touch with his family.
“I have already lost my son, but you are also taking away my best friend,” Newton told Judge Michael O’Foghluda, who presided over the plea hearing. “To me he is not a threat to society. People always say, ‘I cannot imagine what you’re going through.’ Well, I want you to imagine what I am going through right now.”
Newton described immense loss.
“If you think you are helping … I’m losing the only human being that knows me better than I know myself so this is not going to be easy at all,” Newton added.
Boz Zellinger, one of the Wake County assistant district attorneys who prosecuted the case, referred to a six-word story often attributed to writer Ernest Hemingway when asking the judge for the maximum sentence associated with second-degree murder.
“For sale: Baby shoes, never worn.”
“This child was robbed of every opportunity of his life,” Zellinger said, adding that he thought prosecutors had made “a huge concession by taking first-degree murder off the table.”
The judge listened to the arguments, then sentenced Morant, 31, to at least 19 years in prison.