BALTIMORE — Michael Jennings was sentenced to two counts of child abuse and one count of child abuse resulting in death.
Jennings admitted to causing his two and a half year old daughter’s fatal injuries when he attempted to discipline her after she spilled Cheerios on a bed.
After pleading guilty earlier this year, the court ordered a pre-sentence investigation into the circumstances of his daughter’s death, as well as a psychological evaluation. Once the evaluation and investigation were complete, he returned before the bench, where he was sentenced to 30 years in prison.
Assistant State’s Attorney Eileen Murphy prosecuted the case.
Jennings told investigators that he grabbed his daughter by the neck after she spilled the cereal. He, then, laid the child down next to her twin sister for a nap—but as she lay on the bed, she began gasping for air. First responders were called to the residence—located in the 500 block of East North Avenue— but were unable to revive the child.
Jennings had no prior criminal history, but has an extensive history of mental health issues.
“This was a tragedy. What we have in this case is a man who was ill-equipped to handle these children—and as a result, he went overboard with his attempts to discipline them,” Murphy said.
Photographic evidence of the children revealed multiple scars around the children’s necks. Jennings admitted to investigators that he would dig his fingernails into his daughters necks if they moved while he tried to style their hair. Investigators learned that the children lived in deplorable conditions with little outside stimulation.
“There was no electricity in the home, they never saw other children or went outside, and they hadn’t been to a doctor in over a year,” Murphy said.
Jennings petitioned for custody of the girls when their mother became heavily addicted to drugs. However, he was unable to maintain a stable source of income or home for his family. Murphy says that the case was a confluence of abject poverty, poor mental health, and inexperience standing in the way of Jennings’ ability to properly care for his children.
“I think he was in over his head. Had he asked for help [by applying for social service resources] earlier on, maybe this could have been avoided,” Murphy said.
The maternal aunt of the surviving child has taken her into custody. According to Murphy, she is doing well. At the sentencing hearing, Jennings submitted a letter of remorse to the court.
“We see it time and time again—drugs, poor mental health, and extreme poverty having fatal consequences on Baltimore’s most vulnerable populations. I’m deeply saddened by this tragic outcome,” State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby said.