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Former Marine gets 15 years to life in prison in infant son’s murder

Stanford Morocho, a former Marine at Camp Pendleton, pleaded guilty in March to second-degree murder in the 2014 death of his son.
(Eduardo Contreras / San Diego Union-Tribune)

In a case the prosecution described as “heartbreaking,” a former Camp Pendleton Marine who fatally beat his 7-month-old son was sentenced to 15 years to life in prison.

Stanford Morocho, 23, pleaded guilty in March to second-degree murder in the 2014 death of his son, Emilio Michael Harvey. He was arrested in December 2014, on the day he brought his baby to a Naval hospital on the Marine base.

Emilio was not breathing.

The child’s mother, Jannelle Harvey, had a brief relationship with the defendant, and the parents had an informal agreement to share custody of the child.

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Harvey, formerly a lance corporal in the Marine Corps, wept at the sentencing hearing Wednesday in Vista Superior Court. A friend read a statement by Harvey, who was too emotional to speak about her loss, to the court:

“My world was flipped upside down as I was required to navigate the unthinkable,” Harvey wrote in her letter, describing how she struggled to go on after learning of her baby’s death. She said she found it too difficult to fulfill her duties, and was honorably discharged from the military.

“I lost my baby, I lost my household, I lost the Marine Corps, and I lost my identity,” the letter read.

Harvey noted that she and others should have been preparing to celebrate Emilio’s second birthday this month. Instead, she was in court standing near the man responsible for her child’s murder.

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“Emilio could not run away,” she said in her letter. “He could not say no.” Knowing that she only got to hear her son call her “Mama” once breaks her heart, Harvey said.

Judge K. Michael Kirkman sentenced Morocho to the prison term prescribed by law. “It’s my opinion that the defendant should never be released from prison,” the judge said. “This is a horrible crime.”

Prosecutors have said Morocho abused his son between Dec. 2, 2014, when he took physical custody, and Dec. 12, 2014, when the baby was flown to Rady Children’s Hospital after he was taken to Camp Pendleton for a medical emergency.

According to court documents, Emilio had suffered skull and rib fractures.

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Morocho admitted to investigators that he had squeezed the baby’s ribs, smacked him on his buttocks and legs when he would not stop crying, and hit his head on a door, according to a pre-sentencing report. He also said he had pinched the baby on the chin when he was upset with the child.

After the hearing, Deputy Dist. Atty. Ryan Saunders put it more succinctly: “He beat the child for a week.”

On Wednesday, Morocho spoke directly to Harvey in the courtroom, saying he was sorry for all the pain she had been through. His voice quivering, he said he loved Harvey because she would always be the mother of their son.

“I’m sorry for this tragedy that occurred,” he said. “I hope that you will forgive me one day.”

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Morocho was in a relationship with another woman, Savoeun Meas, and was living with her at the time the baby died. Prosecutors contend that she witnessed the abuse but did nothing to stop or report it.

A Marine sergeant, Meas has pleaded guilty to felony child endangerment. She faces up to six years in prison at a hearing scheduled for May 18.

dana.littlefield@sduniontribune.com

Littlefield writes for the San Diego Union-Tribune.

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