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The life of Whitney Palmer's 4-month-old son was worth more than 15 years, the young mother said Friday.
Her son's name was Carter.
Had Carter not died two years ago at the hands of his father, the boy would have grown up, she said. He would have lived a full and happy life, she said. It would have lasted longer than 15 years.
"There will always be this huge hole in my heart," Palmer, 22, told the court Friday. "Every time I see a little kid about 3 years old, I just think of him. He would have been that age now. And I think of who he would have been and what he would be doing. I always will."
Third District Judge Deno Himonas listened as the grieving mother sobbed before the court Friday. He nodded as she told him no amount of prison time would bring back her baby boy.
Then he did the only thing he could do he sentenced Jeremy Andus, the infant's father, to up to 15 years in prison for killing the baby.
Andus, who has been behind bars since April 2011, will get credit for the time he has already served, meaning he will be released no later than when he turns 35. Andus pleaded guilty to a count of manslaughter.
"This may be a life sentence of pain for everyone, but that baby got a death sentence," grandmother Leianna Palmer said. "He's going to be old enough to get out and live a life after all of this. Carter never will."
As she spoke, Andus sat, hung his head and sobbed.
The chains around the young father's wrists clattered as he raised his hands to wipe tears from his eyes. He was sorry, he told the judge.
"I think about this the first thing in the morning; I dream about this when I go to sleep," Andus said, shaking his head as tears ran down his young face, mingling with the brown hairs of a goatee. "I loved Carter. He was my son, too. ... And I want to get the help I need and do something with my life. Not just for me, but to honor my son."
According to court documents, a man heard screaming outside his workplace and found Andus holding the baby, "white and totally limp," in the backseat of a car. Doctors managed to revive the infant momentarily, but the Carter eventually died from the "massive" head trauma doctors deduced was caused by shaking and hitting a hard surface.
At a preliminary hearing last year, a doctor from Primary Children's Medical Center said the child had tears in his brain tissue and damage to his brain stem.
These kinds of injuries are seen only in the "worst of the worst" cases, according to Salt Lake County prosecutor Rob Parrish.
Doctors also found an older head injury the result of prolonged and continuous abuse, the Palmer family said.
"It wasn't just one time he was shaken or hurt, it was the whole time he was alive," Whitney Palmer said. "It was the whole four months."
"We had an inkling something was going on, but he stopped coming by, he stopped letting us see our daughter or our grandson," Carter's grandfather Dave Palmer added after the hearing. "Then one day we saw Carter and he was just lethargic, blank. Like a doll. There was no life left in that baby."
Andus has denied repeatedly abusing the baby.
He was originally charged with first-degree felony murder and second-degree felony child abuse in the baby's death, but those charges were reduced and dismissed, respectively, after Andus made a plea deal with prosecutors.
Before Andus was sentenced, his mother and sister told the judge that he was a good man who did a bad thing.
"I don't think anyone is going to get better emotionally or spiritually or however with Jeremy going to prison," said the defendant's sister, who appeared pregnant and told the judge she and her husband were willing to take Andus into their home, with their young baby, after he is released from custody. She declined to give her name to a reporter after the hearing.
Himonas said he appreciated her trust in her brother, but noted that the terms of Andus' probation or parole would probably prohibit him from living with children.