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Teen dad sentenced to 8 years for shaking infant son

Michael Carduff has seven more years behind bars to think about the life sentence he imposed on his son.

Carduff, now 19, pleaded guilty Thursday to charges related to nearly shaking his son to death when he was 4 months old at their Rock Hill home.

His son, Owen, now 16 months old, faces a lifetime of rehabilitation and care as a result of brain injuries suffered after being shaken last January, said 16th Circuit Assistant Solicitor Erin Joyner.

"I do think Owen has a life sentence," his mother Kayla Lythgoe said, before asking the judge not to let her son's father be put on probation. "I think Michael should be punished."

Carduff pleaded guilty to inflicting great bodily injury on a child and unlawful conduct toward a child.

Circuit Court Judge Michael Nettles sentenced Carduff to eight years in prison, with credit for the year he has spent in jail since his son was injured.

Nettles said it was difficult to determine a sentence for Carduff because he wasn't a criminal by nature. The inflicting great bodily harm charge carries a maximum sentence of 20 years.

"You made an error in judgment and need to be held responsible," Nettles told Carduff before announcing his decision. "What you've done has altered a human being's life forever."

There were no negotiations or sentencing recommendations in this plea.

Carduff originally denied any part in his son's injuries, and then changed his story, saying he dropped Owen and the baby was injured tumbling down stairs, Joyner said. After investigators confronted him, Carduff admitted to getting frustrated with his crying son and shaking him.

Carduff said he didn't immediately take his son to the hospital because he didn't want the child's mother to be angry with him.

Owen was having seizures and had refused feedings when he was taken to Piedmont Medical Center on Jan. 11, 2009. He was moved to Levine Children's Hospital in Charlotte, where he spent several days in intensive care.

Brain scans showed severe brain damage from lack of oxygen, Joyner said, and Owen had scratches and bruises on his body.

Doctors decided to remove him from life support. After a few days, he started to improve. He has made modest improvement over the past year. Doctors say Owen might never walk, talk or eat on his own.

Defense attorney Melissa Inzerillo said her client has been remorseful since the incident and has wanted to do whatever is best for Owen.

Carduff's parents spoke in court, and letters were written to the judge about how the incident was "out of character for him."

"Unfortunately, what we see in this case is a moment of frustration," Inzerillo said, "a moment with (repercussions) through many people's lives."

Owen's maternal grandparents, Larry and Charlotte Williams, said they would have preferred a more severe punishment.

"The sentence was a little bit light simply because if Owen had died, it would have been more of a sentence," Larry Williams said. "He didn't die, but his quality of life did."

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