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25-years-to-life for Sacramento man who murdered 3-week-old daughter

Alias James McLaughlin, holding his infant daughter, Ada, was sentenced Thursday to 25 years to life in prison in the 3-week-old’s death.
Alias James McLaughlin, holding his infant daughter, Ada, was sentenced Thursday to 25 years to life in prison in the 3-week-old’s death. Sacramento Superior Court

A photo montage shown in court Friday displayed several pictures of Alias James McLaughlin with his baby girl.

Most of the time, the camera caught him smiling and doting on Ada, who lived for 21 days before McLaughlin shook her by her ankles and fatally slammed her into the floor.

One photo, however, showed what appeared to be an angrier side of McLaughlin. It depicted him scowling at the camera and looking mean while holding his future victim in his hands.

A Sacramento Superior Court jury last month convicted McLaughlin of second-degree murder and child abuse resulting in the death of Ada Ann Marie Lam-McLaughlin.

On Friday, Judge Marjorie Koller sentenced him to 25 years to life in prison for the blunt-force killing of his daughter in 2013.

“The death of a 21-day-old child is certainly felt universally – an unspeakable tragedy,” Koller said before sentencing McLaughlin.

Defense attorney Robert J. Saria said afterward he thought McLaughlin was mainly playing around in his mean-mug pose.

“I don’t know what that was all about,” Saria said of the photo. “There were a good dozen others (in the montage) where he’s smiling and happy. I didn’t take it as that (he was angry). There wasn’t a single other picture where he seemed unhappy.”

Deputy District Attorney Sheri Greco did not comment on the photo of McLaughlin. She did, however, include it in a motion to be submitted to state parole officials when the day comes that McLaughlin tries to get out of prison.

“Baby Ada was 21 days old, weighed 5 pounds and was 19 inches in length,” Greco’s motion said. “(T)he written word is not adequate to convey the torment suffered by this precious baby on the day she was killed.”

Greco’s motion asked that in the future, “parole board members will balance the value of the person he remakes or repackages himself into, with the life of precious Baby Ada who was never given the opportunity to choose her life’s path and who is forever frozen at the age of 3 weeks in the hearts and minds of those who loved her so much.”

McLaughlin, now 22, insisted in an interview with Sacramento police that it was something of an accident when he killed the baby by very roughly and angrily setting her down on the floor when he couldn’t get her to stop crying early on the morning of May 10, 2013.

Dalena Lam, his girlfriend and the baby’s mother, testified at trial that he flew into something of a rage before the fatal set-down in an apartment on 43rd Avenue in the Little Pocket area.

Lam said McLaughlin had been throwing things in anger because the baby wouldn’t quiet down, that he forcefully jammed her bottle into her mouth and did the same with her pacifier. She said he held the infant upside down by the ankles and shook her, and that he said, “I hope you die!”

Lam testified that McLaughlin also shoved her out of the way and bruised her arms when she tried to protect the baby.

Anger as an issue cropped up repeatedly in an assessment of McLaughlin contained in his probation report, filed with the court Friday.

When he was about 10 years old, McLaughlin’s parents divorced and he was sent to live with his grandparents in Scottsbluff, Neb. It wasn’t clear in the report what happened in Nebraska, but he wound up as a ward of the court and was placed in a group home where one time he ran into a table and the police were called.”

As an adult, McLaughlin was arrested and convicted for a 2012 battery on Dalena Lam, later to become Baby Ada’s mother. The probation report said he got mad at Lam when she wouldn’t talk to him.

When Lam tried to get out of a car, “the defendant grabbed her by both arms and held her against the wall. The defendant’s grip was so hard on the victim’s arms that they left marks.”

The report used words like “destructive” and “disruptive” to describe McLaughlin’s behavior in jail. It said he once tried to hit a deputy and that jail investigators conducting a cell search found nine containers of urine, which inmates occasionally use to throw at deputies.

McLaughlin “did not express any emotion regarding the death of his daughter” when probation officials attempted to interview him for the pre-sentencing report.

“When provided the opportunity to give a statement (about the killing), the defendant stated, ‘That’s not me. That’s not my personality,” the report said.

Judge Koller’s courtroom was nearly full for McLaughlin’s sentencing, with friends and relatives of the defendant as well as supporters of the baby’s mother making equal demands on a box of tissues to dry their cheeks as the 4-minute film flashed by.

“She was so precious,” Dalena Lam said of her daughter in a victim’s impact statement to the court. “There’s no way to describe the pain, anger and hurt” McLaughlin caused, Lam said.

Call The Bee’s Andy Furillo, (916) 321-1141. Follow him on Twitter @andyfurillo.

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