A 25-year-old Helena man, still maintaining his innocence, was sentenced to 20 years in prison Thursday for the May 2012 bathtub scalding of his 3-year-old son.
Christopher Lee Gleed has said from the start of the case that the burning of the child was accidental, and his lawyer indicated an appeal was likely.
“They just sentenced an innocent man,” said Dr. Jerold Kaplan, a burn expert whose attempt to testify at sentencing was rejected by District Judge Jeffrey Sherlock.
About 30 of Gleed’s supporters filled the courtroom and heard Sherlock follow the recommendation of prosecutors and a probation officer and order the maximum possible sentence for aggravated assault.
Prosecutors said the boy was submerged in a bathtub filled with 130-degree water on May 2. He was taken to a burn center in Salt Lake City and spent more than six weeks in the hospital. A jury convicted Gleed on Dec. 19, 2012 after a two-day trial.
At sentencing, Gleed’s attorney, Palmer Hoovestal, tried to call Kaplan as a witness. Sherlock refused, saying Kaplan had missed an opportunity to testify at the trial, and he would not allow him to argue the jury verdict.
Kaplan, of Berkeley, Calif., would have countered testimony in the trial that said the scalding was deliberate, Hoovestal said.
“This (burn) pattern is such a classic accidental burn and absolutely incompatible with intentional burn injuries,” Kaplan said after the hearing.
Lewis and Clark County Attorney Leo Gallagher said it was the worst case of child abuse he had seen.
Gleed, he said, did not attack the child out of anger set off by something like a dirty diaper, as some parents have. And despite some issues with alcohol, Gleed was not intoxicated during the incident.
“The injuries to this child were a project that Mr. Gleed engaged in that day,” Gallagher said. “Somehow he got the water very, very hot.”
He said Gleed gave the boy “repeated, horrendous” scaldings.
“This is something that was cold, calculated and deliberate,” he said.
Probation and Parole Officer Cathy Murphy testified that the boy suffered extreme pain.
“So much pain that the nurse at the hospital indicated that nothing could lower his pain other than sedating him,” she said. “It was just a very painful and long experience.”
The boy had repeated painful procedures including the debridement, or removal, of burned skin, she said.
He still has painful scars and ongoing medical issues, but another witness said he is doing “wonderfully.”
Hoovestal argued for a sentence of 10 years of probation. He noted that Gleed, who had been working as a bartender, was contributing financially to the family and has no prior history of violent crimes.
Murphy said the mother of the boy also believes the burning was accidental and hopes the family, which includes two baby twins, will someday reunite. Gleed testified that he has not yet seen the twins, except in pictures.
Gleed acknowledged some shortcomings in his parenting, including failing to be part of his son’s life early on, but said he “manned up” and came back into his life.
“I love my kid,” he said. “The allegation … about doing this on purpose, knowingly, intentionally, is just appalling to me.”
Sherlock said he was alarmed by the statements of Gleed and his supporters that they believe the burning was accidental.
“I’ve never seen a case like this where a child hasn’t died,” he said of the extent of the injuries.
Kaplan was unable to testify at the trial as scheduled, and Sherlock would not move the trial date to accommodate him, Gleed’s brother, Kory Gleed, said after the hearing.
“Where I’m angry is, the judge basically admitted. I thought up there, that he knows that there’s an expert witness that could have altered the course of the case,” he said. “I don’t think the search for justice was done.”
If the conviction and sentence are upheld, Christopher Gleed could be eligible for parole in about five years.
Reporter Sanjay Talwani: 447-4086, email@example.com. Follow Sanjay on Twitter.com/IR_SanjayT