CAPE MAY COURT HOUSE — Two years after 3-year-old Elijah Ulbrich died, Charles R. Kane Jr. admitted in court Tuesday that he shoved the North Wildwood boy’s head against a refrigerator door with such force that it fractured the boy’s skull.
“Did you shove him into the refrigerator with a significant amount of force causing him to hit his head,” defense attorney John Tumelty asked.
“Yes,” Kane replied.
Kane, 37, made the admission as part of a plea agreement for which the Lower Township man will receive a 15-year prison term for pleading guilty to first-degree aggravated manslaughter in connection with Elijah’s March 17, 2010 death.
Before Kane spoke, First Assistant Prosecutor J. David Meyer told Superior Court Judge Batten that doctors who examined Elijah found the severity of the injury consistent with a child being struck with a baseball bat, falling from a second-story building or being in a serious motor vehicle collision.
“Elijah, at the time of this incident, was an otherwise healthy 3-year-old boy,” Meyer said as the boy’s parents, Richard and Christina Ulbrich, sat across the courtroom from Kane.
Kane’s plea came in the midst of a two-day hearing concerning statements he gave to police Feb. 25 and Feb. 26, 2010, in the hours after Elijah was injured.
A video recording of Kane’s interview with Sgt. Stephen Vivarina, of the Cape May County Prosecutor’s Office, was being played in the courtroom Tuesday morning when Kane turned to Tumelty and told him he was ready to plead guilty.
During the interview, conducted at the North Wildwood Police Department, Vivarina continued to press Kane to be honest and tell the police what happened to Elijah at the boy’s Walnut Avenue home on the night of Feb. 25.
Kane had been baby-sitting the boy while Christina Ulbrich went to a Laundromat. At some point, Elijah wet his pants and by the time his mother came home, the child was unresponsive and unconscious.
“I’m tired of you just sitting here lying,” Vivarina told Kane as he continued to question him.
Kane said he had gone to the bathroom and when he came out he found Elijah curled up on the floor. He changed the boy’s wet pants and then punished him by having him stand with his head against a refrigerator door, Kane said. A short time later he placed him in his bed, he said.
But his words did not explain why Elijah was found unconscious when his mother returned.
“I am not listening to your lies. I’m done with your lies,” Vivarina said.
Vivarina told Kane to “be a man” and tell “what happened in that house tonight.”
Moments later, the recording was stopped and the attorneys told the judge a plea was possible.
Kane had been expected to plead guilty as early as October 2010 to aggravated manslaughter, but on each occasion when a plea was anticipated he changed his mind.
This time, after watching the interview, he opted to accept a plea offer.
Kane spoke softly at first and was asked to speak up twice as he answered Tumelty’s questions.
Tumelty asked if Kane was upset because the boy wet his pants and if he intended to discipline him.
Kane said he was upset as he pushed the boy into the refrigerator door.
Tumelty asked if Kane knew that the force he used caused a skull fracture.
“I learned that later. Yes, sir,” Kane said as he admitted being reckless for using such force on the 30-pound boy. Elijah died several weeks later on March 17, 2010.
In exchange for pleading guilty to first-degree aggravated manslaughter, Kane, who had been facing a murder charge, will be sentenced May 9 to 15 years in state prison.
He must serve at least 85 percent of that term under the state’s No Early Release Act before becoming eligible for parole, and he will also be subject to five years of parole supervision upon his release.
Outside the courtroom, Richard Ulbrich said he disagreed with the prison term.
“I don’t think 15 years is enough time,” Richard Ulbrich said.
Christina Ulbrich agreed.
“I’m in shock. I don’t have anything to say right now,” she said. “I don’t think 15 years is enough. I still want to know what happened.”
Meyer did not comment on the plea, but Tumelty said it was a case in which “both sides were equally dissatisfied with the resolution.”
“It was a very, very difficult case. The evidence on the videotape was very compelling for the state and very damaging to the defense,” he said.
Tumelty said there was a strong likelihood that had Kane been convicted at trial he could have ended up with a much lengthier sentence. A murder conviction could have led to a life sentence, requiring Kane to have served at least 30 years before he could be paroled.
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