Man accused of child’s murder takes plea as trial winds down
By Ruth Ann Krause Post-Tribune correspondent October 3, 2012 2:23PM
Levi Hiatt. | Provided Photo~Sun-Times Media ptmet
Updated: November 5, 2012 11:35AM
As his jury trial was winding down, a Hobart man pleaded guilty to neglect of a dependent in the death of his ex-girlfriend’s 3-year-old son in exchange for a 30-year prison sentence.
Levi Edward Hiatt, 28, admitted his actions caused injuries to Comer Watkins V and that he failed to seek medical attention for the boy, who lapsed into unconsciousness for 19 hours before an ambulance was called. Hiatt admitted that failing to get treatment for the child contributed to his death.
The plea agreement came after Lake Superior Court Judge pro tem Thomas Webber granted a defense request to dismiss a murder charge in the case. Murder is punishable by 45 to 65 years.
During questioning by defense attorney Larry Rogers, Hiatt said he was pleading guilty of his own free will. Hiatt told Webber, a senior judge from Porter County, that he has bipolar disorder but that his mental health issue did not interfere with his ability to understand the court proceedings.
Evidence presented in the trial, which began Sept. 24, showed little Comer suffered severe head and groin injuries, including a subdural hematoma — bleeding under the lining that surrounds the brain. Dr. Ponni Arunkumar of the Cook County (Ill.) Medical Examiner’s Office ruled the death a homicide as a result of the subdural hematoma that was caused by blunt force trauma as a result of child abuse. Jurors saw photos of the boy’s body, which had bruises on his back, buttocks, arm and leg, as well as evidence of the extensive trauma to the top, side and back of his head.
In a second statement to police, Hiatt told police he accidentally injured the boy’s genitalia by jumping on the bed and landing with his knee in the child’s groin. When he was trying to look at the area in the bathroom, Comer was crying and wouldn’t pull down his pants, so Hiatt told police he grabbed him by his ankles and forcefully pulled his legs forward, causing the child’s head to fly back and strike the bathtub and the floor. Hiatt initially told police a different version of events.
The crime occurred between April 11, 2010 and April 12, 2010, while Comer’s mother, Stephanie Smith, was at work. Comer was transferred to University of Chicago Comer Children’s Hospital, where he died April 13, 2010.
Webber scheduled a sentencing hearing for Nov. 20.