Jeffrey Snowden must have hated his child, casting aside one of the greatest gifts God could give a father, a Sacramento judge said in impassioned remarks from the bench Thursday, sentencing the Rancho Cordova man to 16 years in state prison for the 2013 death of his son, 15-month-old Kameron Snowden.
Jurors in December convicted Snowden, a man with a long criminal history in Sacramento County stretching back to his early teens, of felony child neglect in Kameron’s death.
Kameron died after multiple rib fractures caused internal bleeding and a bacterial infection that became septic
“You showed no mercy to this baby. It is your No. 1 responsibility to love your child, but your acts showed that you hated your child,” Sacramento Superior Court Judge Ernest Sawtelle told Snowden from the bench.
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Previous strike allegations swelled Snowden’s sentence from six years to the 16-year term Sawtelle handed down Thursday, ending a case that the judge said was one of the most callous he had seen.
Snowden was young Kameron’s primary caregiver when the child’s mother, Tianah Awezi Maji, found the toddler unresponsive in his crib June 16, 2013 – Father’s Day – court records showed. Paramedics rushed Kameron to UC Davis Medical Center in Sacramento. He never regained consciousness and was pronounced dead.
Kameron was 15 months old. He weighed 14 pounds – having gained just 3 pounds in 14 months.
County medical examiners later determined Kameron died of an infection that resulted from ongoing abuse. A multiplicity of rib fractures, examiners said, caused a chain reaction of internal bleeding and a bacterial infection that became septic, leading to respiratory failure and death.
This child was screaming, begging for help. He gained 3 pounds in 14 months. No parent could look at this child and think this is OK.
Sacramento Superior Court Judge Ernest Sawtelle
Kameron was also chronically malnourished, prosecutors said, citing medical examiners who noted “striking under nutrition and underdevelopment.”
The elder Snowden and Maji were jailed in 2014 after a months-long investigation in connection with the child’s death.
Prosecutors charged Snowden on suspicion of involuntary manslaughter, assault resulting in the child’s death and felony child neglect. Maji, a mother of eight, including Kameron, his twin sister and another child by Snowden, faced charges of murder and felony child endangerment, with prosecutors saying long-term neglect and abuse cut short young Kameron’s life.
Maji, who spent nearly three years in Sacramento County custody on her charges before jurors acquitted her of the allegations in December, attended Snowden’s sentencing. Afterward, Maji said she felt “blessed” to be freed from jail and be able to “be a mother, friend, sister and auntie again.”
Her attorney, Robert Saria, argued at trial that she largely left parenting duties to Snowden while she traveled to and from the Bay Area for work including during the last four to six months of her son’s life.
Prosecutors on Thursday said Snowden allowed his son to waste away without medical care in the final year of his life, blasting Snowden for his “glaring neglect and wanton disregard for the health of Kameron.”
“This case comes down to the simple fact that the death of Kameron did not have to happen,” Sacramento County Deputy District Attorney Molly Steber said. “Mr. Snowden made the choice day after day not to seek help for Kameron.”
But Sacramento County Assistant Public Defender Maura de la Rosa argued Snowden, alone, with three children, their largely absent mother and his own drug and financial struggles, was set up for failure, calling Kameron’s death in trial briefs the “result of bad choices, ignorance and a lack of resources.”
Snowden’s two other children were found by child welfare workers to be unharmed, she wrote, adding that Snowden cooperated with law enforcement and Child Protective Services after Kameron’s death.
At Thursday’s sentencing, de la Rosa referenced her own experience as a mother of triplets and the resources at her disposal – health insurance, transportation, finances – to put Snowden’s struggles in context.
“Imagine him without these resources. It puts in context how difficult day in and day out life was,” de la Rosa said.
But Sawtelle voiced outrage, searching aloud for reasons into the child’s neglect. Was it a stubborn refusal to take the child for help, or sheer laziness, he demanded. Was it indifference, or fear of being reported, he asked.
“This child was screaming, begging for help. He gained 3 pounds in 14 months. No parent could look at this child and think this is OK,” Sawtelle said, his voice continuing to rise. “You deserve every single day that I am sentencing you to. You treated him worse than people treat their pets. He was not garbage, but you threw him away.”