MAYS LANDING — A man who admitted he caused the 2010 death of a toddler in his care in Egg Harbor Township was sentenced Friday to seven years in prison.
During the sentencing, the victim’s mother told the court about the “hell” she and her family have suffered as a result of the killing, but the defendant’s brother argued that Larry Atwell was not guilty.
Atwell, 44, of Somers Point, pleaded guilty to manslaughter in November, admitting he caused the death of Cory Sechtin, 1, when the boy was left in his wife's care. The death was ruled a homicide after doctors determined the baby had been shaken.
At the time, the Atwells were living in Egg Harbor Township, where the defendant's wife took care of children.
Sechtin’s mother, Molly Moore, left the baby in the care of Atwell’s wife, but the woman was sick and transferred responsibility to him.
On Sept. 5, 2010, Atwell told emergency responders the boy fell head-first from a 5-foot-tall slide. Sechtin was rushed to the hospital, where he died three days later.
Atwell was indicted by a grand jury in June 2012, almost two years after the incident, and was released a month later after posting $350,000 bond. He was charged with aggravated manslaughter, manslaughter and endangering the welfare of a child.
Superior Court Judge Bernard DeLury sentenced him Friday to the maximum allowed under the manslaughter plea agreement.
“I had to sit in that hospital for three days and watch my 1-year-old child deteriorate and slowly die,” Moore told the court in her victim-impact statement. “First, we had to decide whether I was going to allow them to drill a hole in his skull to alleviate the swelling in his brain. Then after we were there for less than 10 hours, I awoke from a short nap to hear my son Cory suffering a brain seizure and then a stroke.
“Then having to go through talks with doctors about what kind of life Cory would have if he did survive — would he be blind, slow or deaf? This is nothing that anyone should ever have to go through," she continued. “My next decision, unfortunately, ended up being to decide whether or not I was going to donate his organs because he was not going to survive. ... I got to hold my son as he took his last breath.”
Atwell’s brother and employer John told the court Friday of Larry Atwell's good character and alleged Atwell's wife was responsible for the child’s death.
“The child was in a distressed state and vomiting,” John Atwell said.
John Atwell said the person who is responsible has been curiously absent throughout the judicial process and Larry Atwell is a “battered husband.” He described Atwell’s wife, Patrice, as “a person who has obvious anger and temper issues.”
“He is a gentle soul,” John Atwell said of his brother. He also read aloud a letter by pastor John Quinn of Friendship Bible Church in Egg Harbor Township praising Atwell’s character.
Quinn wrote that Atwell was great with kids, had nothing but nice things to say about Sechtin and his mother, and was a good person all around.
Moore said she doesn’t believe the punishment is adequate for what Atwell has done.
“I can say that I don’t necessarily agree that your plea agreement or time spent in prison is nearly enough for killing Cory — a defenseless 1-year-old child — but at this point, for my self-preservation, I need to take what I can get and start to heal and receive some sort of closure,” she said in her statement Friday. “I need to be able to start to let go of the anger and hatred I have for you and begin to focus on new parts of life. I have a family I need to begin to live for.”
When asked about the allegations by Atwell’s brother, Chief Assistant Prosecutor Pam D'Arcy said Atwell had accepted guilt and experts say his story about the boy falling from a slide doesn’t make sense.
“What he told his family is whatever he told them,” she said.
Moore said: “Since day one you have done nothing but lie to me. You — Larry, and your wife, came to the hospital the day my son was injured. You sat in the hospital room talking to me like you were in just as much shock as I was that this had happened. I believed you. I will probably never hear the truth of what happened that day.”
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