NW Florida father of infant with skull fractures gets 15 years

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Mother wrote to the judge: “My son is a hard worker, great father, son and person.”

ZACK McDONALD News Herald Reporter @PCNHzack

PANAMA CITY — A father convicted of not taking his 5-month-old to the hospital after the child suffered multiple skull fractures has been sentenced to 15 years in prison despite pleas from his family, according to court documents.

Justin Lee Lanier, 28, was sentenced Monday for child neglect resulting in great bodily harm. He and the child’s mother, 27-year-old April Lavern Zimmerman, were arrested in November 2016 after police say they intentionally neglected to seek medical treatment for their 5-month-old for about a week after the child sustained six skull fractures. Zimmerman pleaded no contest in August to aggravated child abuse and received 18 months in prison. Despite the pleas of his family, Lanier was sentenced Monday by Circuit Judge Michael Overstreet to the maximum punishment of 15 years in prison, court records stated.

Lanier’s mother and sister wrote Overstreet in the days leading up to his sentence to ask for leniency, according to court records. Both asked for a punishment without prison time for Lanier to get his life back on track and seemed to express disbelief that he committed the crime.

“My son is a hard worker, great father, son and person,” wrote Allyson Hall, Lanier’s mother. “We all as a family love all three of Justin’s children and Justin very much. My son would never do anything to hurt his children …”

Both Lanier and Zimmerman initially faced charges of child neglect causing great bodily harm after their Nov. 17 arrests by the Panama City Police Department (PCPD). How the 5-month-old sustained the injuries remained unclear; charging documents have been held as confidential because of the victim’s age. However, additional charges of aggravated child abuse filed by the State Attorney’s Office indicated the couple was responsible in some way for six skull fractures and fluid on the brain later discovered by doctors, court records stated.

Officers reported a witness first began encouraging the couple to seek medical treatment for the infant on Nov. 11 “because the infant appeared to be in constant pain,” PCPD reported. The couple made a doctor’s appointment that day but failed to show up for it, officers reported.

The infant also had a doctor’s appointment scheduled for Nov. 14, and the couple allegedly missed that appointment as well. Days later, the witness drove Zimmerman to the doctor herself because the child’s head began showing signs of bruising. The infant was immediately admitted into a hospital for the fractures and fluid on the brain, police reported.

Neither parent could explain how the injuries occurred, investigators reported.

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