District Attorney Randall Houston wants to strengthen the penalty for aggravated child abuse, bringing the punishment up to par with murder and other violent crimes.
Houston’s move would change the punishment in aggravated child-abuse cases where victims are under the age of 6.
“The aggravated child-abuse statute covers children from infants to 18-year-olds,” Houston said. “It’s obvious that a teenager is better able to seek protection from an abuser than a child under the age of 6.
“These are our youngest, most helpless victims. After a child is 6, they are usually in a school situation, where educators can recognize the signs of abuse.”
Houston represents the 19th Judicial Circuit, which includes Autauga, Chilton and Elmore counties. Currently, aggravated child abuse is a Class B felony, with a punishment range of two to 20 years in prison. Houston will be backing a bill in the 2016 legislative session that begins in February to stiffen the penalty to a Class A felony. Murder, attempted murder and other violent crimes are Class A felonies, with a punishment range of 10 to 99 years to life in prison.
By law, aggravated child abuse results in “serious bodily injury” to the victim.
A current case being investigated by his office moved Houston to seek the punishment upgrade.
“I stood in court last week to oppose a bond request made by a mother who, along with her boyfriend, heinously abused her 4-year-old son to a point that he was near death,” Houston said. “As I looked that defendant in the eye and thought of the ways she and her boyfriend had abused her own son, I realized that the current penalties for such monstrous acts are inadequate and must be toughened so those who commit them can stare at the four cold walls of a prison cell for the rest of their lives.”
Houston was referring to the case of Hallee Ann McLeod, 28, of Wetumpka, whose son was found unresponsive and injured in the back of a car in Panama City, Fla., in September. She is facing aggravated child abuse and chemical endangerment of a child charges in Elmore County, courthouse records show.