An Iowa man has been sentenced to serve up to 50 years in prison after a jury convicted him of involuntary manslaughter and child endangerment resulting in death. Both of the charges are felonies.
According to court records reviewed by Law&Crime, Shane Michael Morris, 27, was sentenced Friday. The case against him had been winding through the courts for almost exactly two years; the case originated with the Charles City Police Department in March 2020, the records indicate. But the incident which led to the charges reportedly dates back even further.
Reports from Mason City, Iowa CBS affiliate KIMT say Morris, of Charles City, was tried and convicted over the death of his three-and-a-half-month-old baby boy.
“Morris was taking care of the infant victim on Aug. 3, 2019, when the child suffered a skull fracture and died the next day,” the television station said.
The Charles City Press reported the baby’s mother left for work during the early morning hours that early August day. At about 7:30 a.m., the defendant brought the child, identified in several reports as Xander Michael Morris, to the Floyd County Medical Center because the child was allegedly having trouble breathing, the newspaper said. The defendant told the baby’s mother to meet him at the hospital, the report continued, citing testimony from the trial.
Citing court documents, KIMT reported that Morris initially claimed to know nothing about how the baby was injured, but he later allegedly changed his story.
Citing court documents, the Charles City Press reported that Morris eventually told investigators that “while walking with the child in his arms, he tripped and the child’s head struck the edge of their kitchen counter.”
According to both the newspaper and KIMT, Morris then said he fell on top of the baby.
Authorities did not believe that story.
The Mason City, Iowa Globe Gazette reported that the child was taken to a local hospital, intubated, and flown by helicopter to the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota. Personnel there “found a large bulge in the infant’s skull and found a fracture which was determined unlikely to be accidental,” the newspaper said.
After weighing their options, doctors reportedly deemed medical care futile.
“Life support was discontinued on August 4, 2019, at 4:30 p.m., and Xander was pronounced dead at 4:53 p.m.,” a court record obtained by the Charles City Press indicated.
Investigators believed that the child died by blunt force trauma, and the manner of death was listed as homicide, but the Globe Gazette said the child’s mother agreed with the defendant that the infant’s death was “accidental.”
Morris posted bond, and he and Xander’s mother eventually conceived a second child together while the criminal case involving the death of the first child was pending, the Globe Gazette reported. The authorities intervened, and the courts placed the couple’s second child with its mother.
The Charles City Press reported that Morris’s trial was delayed considerably due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Though the defendant was initially charged with first-degree murder, a jury found him guilty of the lesser charge of involuntary manslaughter, the court documents reviewed by Law&Crime and the various local news reports indicate.
In Iowa, first-degree murder requires a finding that a defendant acted with “premeditation.” The jury apparently did not believe that prosecutors proved the murder case beyond a reasonable doubt. Under Iowa law, involuntary manslaughter occurs when a defendant “unintentionally causes the death of another person by the commission of a public offense other than a forcible felony or escape.”
Defense attorney Judith O’Donohoe told the jury that Morris was scared to tell anyone what really happened to the baby and only revealed the details when he was cornered by law enforcement. She characterized her client as a “coward,” the Charles City Press reported, but not as a killer.
O’Donohoe reportedly also told the jury there were no signs that the defendant was anything but a good dad.
“What is it that would have caused Mr. Morris on August 3rd, 2019, to turn from a loving father, which I think is uncontested, into a killer of his own child?” O’Donohoe rhetorically asked the jury, according to the Charles City Press.
Prosecutors reportedly said the defendant’s version of the story didn’t “make sense.” They pointed to experts who said the baby’s injuries were unlikely to have resulted from an accident.
Court records say Morris was also ordered to pay $10,554.23 in costs and must fork over $150,000 in restitution.
The Press noted that seven men and five women were on the jury.
[image via jail mugshot]
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