A 24-year-old Little Rock father, a newlywed expecting his third child, was sentenced Friday to three years in prison for killing his disabled infant daughter in 2017.
James Menelao Tomassini pleaded guilty to manslaughter in January for the May 2017 death of 5-month-old Milah Tomassini, at the North Little Rock home he shared with the baby's mother, his long-term girlfriend. The couple split up after the baby's death.
The girl died four days after James Tomassini called an ambulance to the home because she wasn't breathing.
The infant, who was his second child, had been born three months premature through an emergency C-section in December 2016. She was mostly blind, a condition expected only to worsen despite two surgeries, and needed oxygen regularly to help her breathe. Milah spent the first three months of her life in intensive care and had been discharged from the hospital for two months before she was fatally injured.
At Friday's sentencing hearing, Tomassini faced a potential 10-year prison term, the maximum available for the Class C felony charge. In arguing for a sentence, deputy prosecutor Kelly Ward and defense attorney Pam Panasiuk presented starkly contrasting views of the defendant to the judge.
Panasiuk asked for probation, citing Tomassini's lack of criminal history and the character endorsements the judge heard from Tomassini's friends and pregnant wife.
Testifying on his behalf were friends Braden Armstrong, 21, and Franklin Adams, 24, along with Kaitlyn Ann Parish, 21, of Alexander, the mother of his 4-year-old daughter, who described him as calm, thoughtful, caring and hardworking.
Tomassini is "outgoing, joyful ... wonderful," his wife of six months, Remnique Stewart Tomassini, told the judge. The Michigan native said James Tomassini is excited about their baby, who is due in June. He's been an enthusiastic participant in their parenting classes, the 22-year-old told the judge.
"We live a good life," she testified.
The baby's death is not a reflection on who James Tomassini is, Panasiuk told the judge. She played a recording of the 911 call in which Tomassini can be heard seeking help for his daughter while he tried to resuscitate the baby.
"I think the 911 call speaks volumes," she said. "He's crying. He's upset. He's giving CPR. We can hear him doing that. He loved this baby."
Ward told the judge that Tomassini deliberately hurt the infant, angry over an argument he'd had with the baby's mother that same morning. Authorities don't believe he deliberately killed the baby but that he recklessly injured the infant in a "violent act of retribution." She called for prison time for Tomassini.
The testimony of his friends, that Tomassini is not an impulsive person but rather "a smart and deliberate person ... shows he acted out of anger ... on that blind infant who's been hooked up to oxygen for most of her life," Ward said.
In opting for prison over probation, the judge said he was impressed with the testimony, including statements from Milah's mother that she still has feelings for him and that she visited him, gave him money and wrote him letters while he was in jail.
But Johnson said he could not disregard the medical testimony that Milah suffered shoulder fractures, a leg fracture, and brain injuries with evidence of healing rib fractures.
The judge said he kept returning to the testimony of Dr. Stephen Erickson, the medical examiner who autopsied the baby and who described the "excessively violent treatment" required to inflict "devastating neurological injuries."
"[It was] a force any reasonable person would know they should not be doing to a baby," Erickson said. "Babies are tough but not compared to the strength ... of an adult."
Only Tomassini knows what he did to the girl. The baby's mother, Zhantega Young, testified that Tomassini at first told her the girl had been hurt while he was playing with her -- an explanation Erickson ruled out.
"He told me a lie. First, he kept saying 'I was bouncing her [on his knee] and maybe I bounced her too hard," Young told the judge. "Then he said, 'I snapped. I just snapped. And when I did it, I told her I hated you.'"
The disclosure shocked her because they had been together for four years and she had thought they had a good relationship, Young said. She testified that they had quarreled over the phone the day the baby was hurt. Young said she was in Conway visiting a friend and had gotten angry when Tomassini did not answer the phone the first time she called him to check on the baby.
"Losing Milah ruined my life," Young said.
Tomassini did not testify. He submitted a written statement to the judge that included an apology to Young.
"I am not an evil person. I loved my daughter with my life. I would die for her. I did not do anything intentionally. I still give love to Milah through prayers and thoughts," he wrote.
Metro on 03/30/2019
Print Headline: Little Rock dad given 3 years in infant girl's 2017 death