Friday, January 06, 2012
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Cline sentenced to 30 years; defense plans to appeal

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[January 06, 2012]  Thursday afternoon, Ty Cline was brought before Judge Thomas Harris at the Logan County Circuit Court for sentencing. 

Cline was found guilty in September of first-degree murder in the death of 2-year-old Lucas Alberts. 

After approximately two hours in the courtroom, Harris handed down his sentence of 30 years and three years of supervised release. Because the charge is first-degree murder, Cline will serve the entire sentence with no chance for parole. At just over 40 years old now, Cline will be 70 when he is released from prison. 

Cline arrived at the courthouse in the custody of Logan County Sheriff's Department officers. Coming in through the west side doors of the rotunda in prison garb and shackled, he was taken to a meeting room on the third floor, where he was joined by his attorneys, James Elmore and Jeff Page. 

When he was brought into the courtroom, his shackles had been removed, a detail Harris pointed out at the beginning of the hearing. 

Harris said the first order of business would be to proceed with a motion from the defense for a new trial. On Sept. 30, just days after Cline was found guilty, his attorneys submitted a request for a new trial, arguing the jury had not been give proper instruction, when they were denied the right to find Cline guilty of a lesser charge: child endangerment. 

In the courtroom Thursday afternoon, Elmore cited the State v. LaGrone case as the basis for his claim, saying the courts could have found Cline guilty of doing nothing to help the injured Lucas Alberts. 

Elmore said that because the jury had sought advice on lesser charges, it was clear they were not entirely certain of the guilt of Cline on murder charges. He argued that had they been given a choice, they would probably have found Cline guilty of the lesser charge. 

However, because they did not have that option, and they felt he was responsible for the child's death, even though it may not have been proved beyond a reasonable doubt, they still had to find him guilty. 

At the time of the trial, Harris had ruled on the request for a lesser charge, saying the charge had to hold the same elements as the greater charge, and in this case it did not. In the first-degree murder charge, there was no mention of neglecting to seek medical help for the child, but the lesser charge the defense was seeking was based primarily on that neglect. 

On Thursday afternoon, Assistant State's Attorney Jonathan Wright said the court had ruled appropriately and that there was no basis for a lesser charge. 

Elmore argued that if there was no need for a lesser charge, why then did the jury ask for advice in the matter?   

When Harris ruled, he said that he had indeed looked at the People v. LaGrone, and he had found the two cases dissimilar. In the LaGrone case the murder charge included the same components as the lesser charge, and the defense's request in the Cline case did not. 

He ruled against a new trial. 

Hearing moves on to pre-sentencing testimony 

Prior to sentencing, Harris, the prosecution and the defense went through the pre-sentencing investigation report, correcting minor errors, then moved into testimony from friends and family of Lucas Alberts, and testimony from a Department of Child and Family Services investigator. 

Prior to the first speaker, Harris acknowledged he had in his possession 48 letters from friends and family of Ty Cline, speaking on Cline's behalf in the matter. 

Wright began with victim impact statements from Lindsey Alberts, sister-in-law of Jody Alberts and Lucas Alberts' aunt by marriage.   

Alberts spoke with great emotion about the void that has been left in the life of herself and her husband. She recounted that when Lucas died, the couple was planning their wedding, and Lucas was to be their ring bearer. She also remembered the things that made the little boy laugh, the times he enjoyed with his grandparents on the farm, and the songs he liked on the radio.   

She also said there are things daily that remind her of Lucas: for example, the songs she hears on the radio, such as "Big Green Tractor" and "If I Die Young." 

She added the loss of the child has shaken their faith in God, and they have found it difficult to go to church, something they were raised doing and had always been a big part of their lives. 

Rodney Alberts, Lucas' grandfather, also spoke to the judge. Accompanied by his wife Jill, he talked about the joy of being a grandparent, the devastating pain of losing their first and only grandchild, and the sorrow they now carry with them. 

He said there was no doubt that Ty Cline murdered the little boy. But he also said he wonders all the time what could have been done differently, how this could have been prevented. He concluded by saying he'd seen no remorse on the part of Ty Cline, and he felt the man deserved a maximum sentence. 

Lucas Alberts' mother, Jody Albert, was the last family member to speak. In a very emotional speech to the judge she recounted the love she felt for her son and the great loss she is now suffering. She recounted all the things she would never get to do with her son and punctuated it with the statement, "I get to go to the cemetery." She finished by saying Cline would never feel the pain she and her family is feeling. 

After the Alberts family finished their statements, Wright called to the stand Nancy Britten of DCFS. Britten was the investigator appointed to the incident involving Lucas Alberts. Wright asked her if she had looked for old incidents involving Ty Cline. She said that she had, and she had found reports from 2006. 

Prior to his relationship with Jody Alberts, Cline was married with three children.  According to Britten, in 2006 the Cline family was investigated. 

Through Wright's questioning, Britten recounted several incidents when Cline had allegedly caused injury to one of his three children.  

One incident involved bruising on the back of their oldest daughter when she was an infant. Another incident included bruising at the neck. Cline was also reported to have struck his middle daughter on the head hard enough that she was knocked from the chair she was sitting on, and on another occasion, kicked his son on his behind hard enough the child fell down a set of stairs, taking his older sister with him in the fall. 

Britten also said there were reports of Cline having struck his wife. 

When Elmore questioned Britten, he asked if the children had been removed from the Cline home as a result of the DCFS investigation. They had not. He also asked if Britten had firsthand knowledge of the incidents. She said she did not, as in 2006 there was another investigator on the case, and that person is no longer with DCFS. 

When Elmore was given an opportunity to call witnesses on behalf of Cline, he called the ex-wife, Theresa Cline. 

He asked Cline about her marriage and the length of it. The Clines were married in 1998, separated in 2007 and divorced in 2008. Cline said the two had joint custody of the children, and Ty Cline spent a great deal of time with his children. She explained his involvement in their activities and how he helped with taking care of them while she was working. She said Cline loved his children, and his children loved him and were always happy to spend time with him. 

Asked about the DCFS report from 2006, Theresa Cline explained she had been seeing a counselor because of the couple's marital difficulties. There had been an occasion when she and Cline were fighting and he knocked her against a couch and she hit her head. 

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She said she told her counselor about that incident and also recounted incidents involving the children, and the counselor was compelled to report this to DCFS. 

In regard to the infant with the bruising on the back, Cline said her husband was one to pat the baby on the back. When he got nervous he would pat faster but never intended to hurt the child. There had been one occasion when she came home and felt the child was acting differently as was her husband. She saw what she said was redness and decided Cline had patted the child too hard. Cline said she spoke to her mother about this, and her mother said perhaps Ty was not used to babies and in the future should not be left alone to care for the infant. 

In regard to the child being knocked off the stool, Theresa Cline said her husband and middle daughter were arguing over something. The little girl, about 7 at the time, was sitting on a bar stool. Ty Cline told her to stop talking back to him, but she didn't stop, so "he smacked her upside the head and knocked her off the bar stool." 

Theresa Cline said her husband was concerned about the child afterward and consoled her. 

In the matter of the little boy being kicked down the stars, Theresa Cline said it was a common practice of Cline to kick the kids on the behind when they were getting out of hand. She said it was meant as a warning they needed to behave and was never done hard enough to hurt them. With Elmore guiding her through it, Theresa Cline concluded the incident was, in his words, "a comedy of errors" that resulted in both children falling to the bottom of the stairs. 

Arguments for sentencing 

When all the testimony was completed, Wright was the first to make a recommendation for the length of term in Cline's sentencing. 

He said the case was clearly murder and that it was the most serious of crimes. He said it was clear and evident the cause of death was blunt force trauma to the head, but in addition there was clear evidence of additional bruising that, during the trial, Jody Alberts and the day-care workers had testified had not been there earlier. 

He recalled the blow to the head, the bruising on the neck and the abdomen, along with internal hemorrhages in the abdomen area. 

He said this was a case of a grown man against a 2-year-old child who was defenseless.  

He also drew attention to the testimony of Britten in regard to bruising around the Cline daughter's neck, calling it eerily similar to the bruising on Lucas Alberts. 

Wright said a strong sentence was demanded in this case, not only due to the nature of the crime and the death of a child, but also to be used as a deterrent to others, to show that crimes against children will be punished harshly. 

The length of the sentence for a single count of first-degree murder is a range between 20 and 60 years. Wright asked that Cline be sentenced to 50 years in prison. 

Ty Cline speaks for himself prior to sentencing

In a very emotional state, Cline told the judge and the Alberts family that he had no words that could express his sorrow to Jody Alberts and the Alberts family.

He said: "I regret not recognizing the extent of the injuries to Lucas and not taking him to the hospital. I regret not going to the hospital with Jody. 

"I accept the verdict but stand by my testimony that I did not strike Lucas. I ask for forgiveness for my past mistakes and a chance for redemption." 

Cline concluded by saying he would accept whatever the judge handed down. He then thanked his own family for their support. 

When Elmore delivered his final statements, he said the incident with Lucas Alberts was something that happened in a matter of only one or two minutes. He said there was no premeditation, no forethought. 

He said Ty Cline in an instant did a horrible thing, but it was not intentional. He said, "Mr. Cline did not lie in the weeds waiting to take someone's life." 

Elmore also reiterated the testimony of Dr. Denton that the bruises on Lucas were old, and he said the marks on Cline's daughter's neck were a pinch. 

Elmore said Cline was a good person who worked a regular job, paid child support to his ex-wife, participated in his children's lives. He said Cline was a contributor when many aren't and that he hopes to one day redeem himself. 

Elmore said Cline was not the worst of the worst and did not deserve 50 years; he did not deserve to die in prison. He asked that his client be sentenced in a range of 25 to 35 years. 

Harris delivers his sentence 

When the prosecution and defense were done, Harris prepared to deliver his sentence. 

He said first that this was a most difficult decision. He talked about the families on both sides, saying they were good people, and he knew they were all devastated by what had happened. 

Harris said: "I can't begin to tell you how difficult this is. This has been very emotional.  I acknowledge the tremendous loss suffered by Jody Alberts and her family. I acknowledge the impact this has had on a fine family." 

Harris also acknowledged the Cline family and said that his heart goes out to them as well. He concluded, "Two families have been devastated." 

He noted 48 letters of support from friends and family of Ty Cline and said he had read each one of them and many of them more than once. 

In rendering his sentence Harris said he had to weigh the severity of the crime, the nature of it and the rehabilitative potential of Cline. He also had to look at the seriousness of the offense and the age of the victim. 

He said Cline otherwise had a law-abiding history with no violent offenses, some traffic violations and a DUI in 1997. He said from what he had heard during the trial and had read, it appeared that these circumstances were not likely ones that would reoccur, meaning he didn't believe Cline would repeat this type of crime. 

He said the sentence he would render would be significant, but it was neither the lesser nor the greater of what he could give. 

He then said he sentenced Cline to serve 30 years in an Illinois correctional facility, with three years of mandatory supervised release. 

He also stated charges of first-degree murder carry a 100 percent sentence, meaning Cline cannot be released early. 

Harris also said the defense had the right to appeal the sentence within 30 days. 

Elmore indicated he plans to take the Cline case to the appellate courts for appeal.


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