A Wampum man who pleaded no contest in the killing and concealment of his own newborn baby will face 18 to 36 years in a state prison.
Lawrence County Common Pleas Judge J. Craig Cox handed down that sentence Wednesday to 41-year-old Christopher Lee Kennedy, after hearing an angry and bitter admonishment in the courtroom by the victim’s mother and a heart-wrenching impact statement delivered by the baby’s juvenile mother. Authorities said the teen fell sick and was hospitalized for months after the baby’s birth because of Kennedy’s actions.
Kennedy was accused of strangling the newborn to death and encasing its lifeless body in cement in a safe. He also was charged with multiple sex offenses for a relationship he had with the baby boy’s mother since she was 13 years old, and for trying to hide the baby’s remains. He reportedly made the girl take various pills and black cohosh to try to abort the baby, which caused her to become gravely ill. The teen baby was born Oct. 9, 2017, and the girl was hospitalized Oct. 23.
He had pleaded no contest June 22 to a charge of criminal conspiracy to commit third-degree murder, and he pleaded guilty to a charge of involuntary deviate sexual intercourse with a person younger than 16. The girl was 16 when she gave birth to Kennedy’s child.
His prison sentence breaks down to 10 to 20 years for the third-degree murder charge and eight to 16 years for the sex-related charge. He will be given credit for nearly three years he already served in jail and will not be ineligible for parole until he has served at least the minimum of his sentence.
He has been in the Lawrence County jail since his arrest in November 2018. He will be moved to a state correctional institution to serve out his sentence.
Kennedy also will be registered as a lifetime Megan’s Law offender, and is ordered to have no contact with the victim or her family.
Cox commented during the sentencing that what happened to the infant was one of the worst things he’s seen, both on the bench and in his years, prior, as a prosecuting attorney.
“The D.A.’s office was happy with the length of the sentence, given the evidentiary issues we had in the case,” said prosecuting assistant district attorney Jonathan Miller. He said that the consecutive sentences for both charges was the demand by the prosecution under the plea agreement.
Kennedy entered his plea the week he was to stand trial for the many charges pending against him. A jury of eight women and four men already had been selected, including seven teachers, when he agreed to the terms.
A no-contest plea means an accused person accepts conviction but avoids an admission of guilt.
Had he been found guilty during a trial, he could have been convicted of third-degree murder, which carries a life sentence. In addition to that, he could have received another 200 years in prison for multiple other charges against him, and faced fines of $500,000.
Kennedy was represented in the case by defense attorney John Bongivengo.
The Lawrence County District Attorney’s office in cooperation with the Ellwood City police, initially charged Kennedy with homicide, criminal conspiracy to commit homicide, 10 counts each of involuntary deviate sexual intercourse with a person younger than 16, aggravated indecent assault of a person younger than 16 and statutory sexual assault of a person 11 or older; and concealing the death of a child, abuse of a corpse and tampering with physical evidence. With the exception of the criminal conspiracy to commit homicide and involuntary deviate sexual intercourse charges, all of the others were dismissed as a result of the plea agreement.
The probe into the circumstances of the case was conducted by both investigative agencies.
A criminal complaint describes how Kennedy repeatedly had sex with the teen and impregnated her, then participated in the infant’s death. The police found the baby’s remains in a closet in the girl’s house after investigators were alerted by Children’s Hospital, where the teen, after giving birth, hovered between life and death for about a year.
Ellwood City police, after having been alerted the girl was sexually assaulted — and that Kennedy was the suspected offender — contacted the district attorney’s investigators. They went to the Todd Avenue home where the girl was living with her father and stepmother, and found the dead baby hidden in a box in a bedroom closet. The box was pried open at the Beaver County medical examiner’s office at Heritage Valley Health Center in Beaver, on Nov. 14, 2017. Police noted in the report that it appeared to have been filled with cement and caulking sealer.
They found three plastic bags inside that contained the remains of an 18 1/2-inch, brown-haired baby boy that were wrapped in a towel, according to the criminal complaint.
The girl subsequently became so sick that she was on a ventilator for about two weeks, according to the court papers. She remained ill throughout that year, having ingested quantities of herbal supplements and medications at Kennedy’s direction without having received any proper medical care. The girl underwent about 35 operations and was hospitalized for about eight months, then received continued medical treatment, according to the paperwork.
Vincent Martwinski, the district attorney’s lead detective, said at the time of Kennedy’s arrest that the investigation was lengthy because the teen was so sick.
The girl had told detectives Kennedy didn’t want her to have the baby because she was a minor and he would get in trouble, the report alleges. She told police that Kennedy bought her vitamins and herb supplements, including black cohosh, to try to abort the fetus. She said that Kennedy made her take the pills and asked her to take amoxicillin and told her the baby “needed to go,” the report said.
Miller said the teen has since recovered and appears to be in improved health. Suspects are to be considered innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.