CROWN POINT | A 28-year-old Griffith man pleaded guilty Wednesday to a felony neglect charge, agreeing to a 30-year sentence in the death of his then-girlfriend's young son.
In accepting the plea, Levi Hiatt admitted to injuring 3-year-old Comer Watkins and then not obtaining medical attention for the child.
Testimony during Hiatt's trial, which was in its second week, showed the boy died from a subdural hematoma left untreated for at least 17 hours after the injury.
Testimony revealed the boy may have initially injured his head during play at a baby shower, with the later injury compounding the damage.
Hiatt told police he had jumped on the bed to wake the sleeping boy after the boy's mother left for work on Sept. 11, 2010. Hiatt's right knee landed on the boy's genitals causing severe swelling and bruising.
Taking the boy into the bathroom, Hiatt told authorities he yanked on the boy's calves while attempting to remove the child's pants. During the struggle the child struck his head on the tub and floor.
Hiatt sought help from web sites to treat the child possible but obtained no professional medical care for the boy until the child had been unresponsive for some 17 to 19 hours.
"I think it was a fair resolution," said Larry Rogers, Hiatt's defense attorney, following the proceeding. "I was convinced from the outset that Levi Hiatt was not guilty of murder. There was never any allegation of any kind of child abuse or harm to that child before that day."
At the close of the state's case, Rogers had sought a directed verdict on the murder charge from the presiding judge, Special Judge Thomas Webber, who took the matter under advisement.
Ruling Wednesday prior to the plea offer, Webber entered a verdict of not guilty on the murder charge, citing lack of evidence that Hiatt had intentionally killed the child.
In May, Hiatt had rejected a plea deal in which he was asked to plead guilty to one of four counts of felony neglect for which he faced a maximum 50-year-sentence. He was subsequently charged with murder.
Events Wednesday led prosecutors to repeat the earlier plea offer with the lesser sentence of 30 years.
Hiatt faces formal sentencing Nov. 20.