Baby’s Death Was Manslaughter, Not Murder, Jury Says
A 20-year-old Fountain Valley man who admitted killing his baby nephew when he was crying was acquitted of murder Friday and instead found guilty of involuntary manslaughter.
The victim’s family angrily denounced the verdict as a travesty.
Sherman Robert Corwin Jr., who had been living with his sister and her husband, was baby-sitting their 15-month-old son, Thomas Negri, and the boy’s 4-year-old sister on Oct. 14, 1989, when the killing occurred.
Corwin has admitted that he stuffed a sock in the baby boy’s mouth, choked the child, tied a plastic bag over the baby’s head, and then got a larger plastic bag and tied it around the child’s head with a sock. The baby died of suffocation.
But jurors accepted defense psychiatric testimony that Corwin suffered from depression that left him incapable of planning to intentionally kill the child.
Deputy Public Defender Marri Derby was pleased with the verdict.
“I had serious doubts I, as a lawyer, could convince any jury to look beyond the horror of acts that went on, the tragic results, and take a hard look at my client’s condition at the time,” Derby said.
As a result of the verdict, Corwin can receive a maximum sentence of four years in prison when sentenced by Judge Ragnar R. Engebretsen on April 5. A first-degree murder conviction, which prosecutors sought, would have carried an automatic term of 25 years to life in prison.
Because Corwin has already served close to a year and a half in custody awaiting trial, he would probably have very little time, if any, left to serve if sent to prison, where an inmate can gain at least one day of good time for every day served.
Instead of a prison commitment, Derby said, she will ask Engebretsen to place Corwin on probation, with the condition that he undergo psychiatric hospital treatment.
“I know that the victim’s family members are embittered, but this was the correct verdict,” Derby said.
Deputy Dist. Atty. Charles J. Middleton, who prosecuted the case, was vehement in his disagreement with the jury’s verdict.
“This was a very, very strong case for murder,” Middleton said. “But the jurors bought into the psychiatric testimony. This fellow (Corwin) pulled a scam to get out of the Navy, and it looks like he’s scammed his way out again.”
The prosecutor was referring to Corwin’s discharge from the Navy a short time before the killing, based on reports by a battery of Navy psychiatrists that he suffered from acute depression.
“We believe he was malingering when he talked to those psychiatrists,” Middleton said. “We have evidence that he told someone he had scammed his way out of the Navy.”
Most bitter about the verdict were the baby’s father, Greg Negri, and the baby’s grandfather, Frank Negri.
“I’ve got to get out of here before I do something rash,” Greg Negri said outside Engebretsen’s courtroom on the second floor of Harbor Court.
Frank Negri was shouting so loudly he had to be quieted in the hallway by officials from a nearby courtroom.
“You put a plastic bag over a child’s head to kill him, and that’s not murder?” Frank Negri argued. “This is a travesty of justice. It’s unbelievable. He’ll get his. What goes around comes around.”
Frank Negri claimed that Corwin was jealous because his sister, Cheryl Negri, Greg Negri’s wife at the time--they are now divorcing--had a happy home life and two lovely children.
Frank Negri also said Corwin killed the baby because the Negris are Italian.
“This baby was expendable to him because of (the baby’s) ethnic heritage,” Frank Negri argued. “We Italians are not all organ grinders with a monkey. We are respectable members of this community!”
Defense attorney Derby said there was no evidence before the jury to support any of the grandfather’s claims.
Instead, she said, jurors told her afterward they had relied greatly on the testimony of Harvard professor Harrison Pope, a biological psychiatrist, who testified in detail that Corwin suffered from a severe mood disorder called unipolar depression.
Corwin, who did not testify, told psychiatrists that he had been frustrated that he could not get the 4-year-old to sleep or stop the baby’s crying.
Derby said her client recognizes that he needs help.
“It would have been a waste to send this young man to prison for the rest of his life,” she said. “I’m so thankful the jurors could see that.”