Julian Woody was dead and buried before he was even supposed to have been born.
Sixteen days after the baby boy's premature birth, he died of blunt force trauma and multiple skull fractures -- an important medical finding from the autopsy, a Baltimore County prosecutor told a judge yesterday because infants' heads are "soft and pliable" for easier passage through the birth canal during labor.
The image of the boy in the hospital, "his head swollen to the size of a cantaloupe, is burned into my memory," the child's mother, Alisia Woody, said yesterday at the sentencing hearing for her former boyfriend.
That man, 21-year-old Kenneth G. Ryan, was sentenced to 30 years in prison for killing his son last year. He pleaded guilty last month to second-degree murder and child abuse, admitting that he inflicted the injuries that caused the infant's death but offering no explanation as to what happened.
That lingering question hung over the emotional hearing yesterday in Baltimore County Circuit Court.
"We don't know what happened. We don't know why," prosecutor Leo Ryan Jr. told the judge. "We do know the result."
Defense attorney Jerri Peyton-Braden told the judge that her client -- who has long struggled with drug and alcohol addictions -- was high the night of Feb. 26, 2007, when police were called to the Dundalk home of the baby's grandmother and mother for a report of child abuse.
Kenneth Ryan had taken Xanax, a prescription medication used to treat anxiety disorders, and had inhaled the spray of Dust-Off, a household product that uses a burst of gas to clean computer keyboards and other electronics, the defense attorney said.
"To this day, I don't think that even Ken Ryan knows what happened," she said.
Judge Robert N. Dugan interrupted the lawyer.
"I think the answer is that someone who abuses drugs loses his good judgment," he said. "Of course, I also believe that one voluntarily decides to abuse drugs."
The defendant's parents detailed in court his substance abuse problems, explaining how a child who was so bright that a school evaluator once suggested that he go to first grade at age four later ended up in drug rehabilitation programs and then criminal court.
In middle school, Ellen Ryan said, her son made friends who "helped Kenny go down a road that he should not have gone down." He started to miss curfews, his grades suffered, he lost weight. Uncertain whether they were overreacting, Ellen and Philip Ryan sent their son to a drug treatment center.
It would not be his last stint there.
In high school, Kenneth Ryan struggled to maintain sobriety. "It is a harsh, confusing and frustrating challenge," he wrote in an essay that his mother read in court.
Everything changed for her son, Ellen Ryan said, when he found out that his off-and-on girlfriend was pregnant with his child.
"Kenny was ecstatic," the defendant's mother told the judge. Deciding to join the military to be a cook and "get his life together," Ellen Ryan said, "he decided he was going to be the father his father was -- and maybe even a little better. This was his purpose now."
But in January 2007, his drug use resumed. He moved out of his parents' Perry Hall home. At the time of his arrest, police gave Kenneth Ryan's address as a Catonsville homeless shelter.
Kenneth Ryan was watching Julian the evening of Feb. 26, 2007 at the home that Alisia Woody shared with her mother. The two women were napping upstairs.
At 8:10 p.m., he woke them to say there was something wrong with the baby. When police arrived, officers found the infant with a black eye and gasping for air. He died less than 24 hours later at the Children's National Medical Center in Washington.
Addressing the judge, Alisia Woody angrily asked how the child's father could have feigned such concern at the hospital knowing that he was responsible for their baby's injuries.
"What kind of monster could even think of doing something so heinous?" she tearfully asked.
She buried her face in her hands when first Ellen Ryan and then Kenneth Ryan apologized to her.
"I offer no excuse," the defendant said. "What happened was inexcusable. However, my apologies should be heard by everyone. They may not be accepted -- and with justification. I failed, your honor. I failed when it mattered the most."
Twisting around to face his now-pregnant former girlfriend, who was seated between her parents and her current boyfriend, Kenneth Ryan said he wanted to apologize "to the one person who loves Julian as much as myself."
"Alisia, I'm so sorry," he choked out in a raspy whisper between sobs. "I'm so sorry."
State sentencing guidelines recommended a prison term of 30 to 50 years. Leo Ryan, the prosecutor, urged the judge to impose two consecutive 30-year sentences on the murder and child abuse convictions.
Instead, Dugan said he was persuaded to allow the two 30-year prison terms to run concurrently. Kenneth Ryan must serve at least half of that sentence -- 15 years -- before he is eligible for a parole hearing.