Joliet stepdad ‘truly sorry’ for beating toddler; faces 15 years
By Janet Lundquist firstname.lastname@example.org February 5, 2013 4:02PM
Richard S. Harris, 33, of 816 Black Road in Joliet, has been jailed on a charge of aggravated battery to a child. He is accused of brutally beating his 2-year-old stepdaughter, who is expected to need long-term care for a traumatic brain injury.
Updated: March 7, 2013 6:36AM
The toddler who was nearly beaten to death by her stepfather two years ago became so terrified of men that she would curl up into a ball or scream when a man came near her, her aunt testified Tuesday.
Richard Harris, 35, of Joliet pleaded guilty in October to administering that beating to his 2-year-old stepdaughter in February 2011.
Tuesday, the girl’s aunt, who is also her foster mother, told Will County Judge Sarah Jones that Harris ripped the hair off the back of the girl’s head.
The girl, now 4, still wakes up screaming from nightmares, said Judy Brown, who has been caring for the preschooler since she came home from the hospital after the beating.
“It would tear me up to see someone innocent have so much fear,” Brown said, crying as she read her victim impact statement. “If someone called her name she would put her hands in front of her face and say, ‘Don’t hit me.’”
The girl suffered a traumatic brain injury and had to learn how to talk and walk all over again, Brown said. She had retinal hemorrhaging, broken ribs and bruises.
She has recovered physically, but not emotionally, Brown said.
“I’m not sure she’ll ever completely lose all her fears,” she said.
Two days after the Feb. 8, 2011, incident, Joliet police brought Harris in for questioning based on statements from the child’s mother.
Harris told police he was holding the girl when his arm went numb from arthritis and he dropped her, authorities said. He said he attempted to break her fall by kicking her but accidentally kicked her into a wall.
Tuesday, Harris told Jones he was “truly sorry” for his crime.
“It’s clear that this child has not had an easy start to life,” said Harris’ attorney, Philip Villasenor. “What he did was wrong, and he knows that.”
Villasenor pointed out that Harris’ family still cares about him, that his criminal history — which includes a domestic battery charge — is not excessively violent, and that he has earned his GED and completed religious classes while he has been in jail.
“Mr. Harris’ actions have lead him to this point today, but those actions don’t have to define him,” Villasenor said. “He does stand here today taking responsibility for his actions.”
Prosecutors asked Jones for a 15-year prison sentence. Jones said she would issue her sentence on Feb. 13.