The California Supreme Court today reinstated a conviction of child-abuse homicide for an Oakland man who accidentally killed his 14-month-old son while playing with him roughly.
Reginald Wyatt Sr., 35, was originally sentenced in Alameda County Superior Court to 25 years to life for the crime, also known as assault on a child resulting in death, in the killing of Reginald Wyatt Jr. in 2003.
But a state appeals court overturned the conviction two years ago, saying that there was no evidence Wyatt knew that his actions in hitting and punching the child would seriously harm him.
In today’s ruling, the state high court in San Francisco unanimously reinstated the conviction, saying that the standard should be not whether Wyatt actually knew of the risk but whether a reasonable person would know of the likely harm.
Justice Marvin Baxter wrote, “Substantial evidence established that defendant knew he was striking his young son with his fist, forearm, knee and elbow, and that he used an amount of force a reasonable person would realize was likely to result in great bodily injury.”
Reginald Jr., who weighed 26 pounds, died of blunt force trauma May 18, 2003, with internal injuries that a doctor said were the type normally seen only in serious car accidents.
The father admitted to police that while play-wrestling, he hit his son in the chest numerous times, “chopped” his back, did a move he called an “atomic elbow” to his head, “body-slammed” him, flipped him onto a bed several times and accidentally fell on top of him.
Wyatt said he was “stuck on toughening him up” and wasn’t paying attention to the possible harm.
The high court sent the case back to the lower courts for reinstatement of the child-abuse homicide conviction.
Wyatt was also convicted of a lesser offense of involuntary manslaughter and sentenced to three years in prison for that crime. That conviction was upheld by the state Court of Appeal and was not part of the appeal to the California Supreme Court.