Ogden • Before Christopher Penland stood in a crowded courtroom Wednesday to speak at the sentencing for the Roy day care worker convicted of killing his son, he had written down the things he had wanted to say.
The pages were full of anger directed at Tisha Lynn Morley, who a jury in May convicted of first-degree felony child abuse homicide for the 2014 death of his 8-month-old son, Lincoln.
But when the day for sentencing finally came, and he stood at the podium in the Ogden courtroom, the father couldn’t bring himself to say the things he had written down. He couldn’t lash out at her, he told 2nd District Judge Scott Hadley, and he didn’t know why.
Instead, Penland said, he would try to forgive Morley. He felt like he had to.
“What’s frustrating, Tisha, you gave Lincoln a death sentence,” Penland said. “And you gave everybody else in this courtroom a life sentence. But I forgive you. And you are going to have to be accountable for what you’ve done.”
Despite Morley’s pleas for lenience, the judge Wednesday sentenced the 36-year-old woman to the maximum sentence — a five-year-to-life term in the Utah State Prison. It was a sentence the judge admitted he struggled to reach.
“None of them feel just right, but it’s not getting better the more time I take,” Hadley said before handing down the sentence.
Morley and her attorney, Logan Bushell, had asked the judge that she serve an additional year in jail, on top of the time she has spent at the Weber County jail since a jury convicted her in May.
Morley cried as she apologized in court Wednesday, saying the Penlands are on her mind every day. She thinks of Lincoln on his birthday, and his older brother on his.
She admitted that she made a “neglectful and careless mistake” that led to Lincoln’s death — but asked the judge to spare her from a prison sentence.
“I’m not a monster,” Morley said. “I’m not a terrible person. I’m a person who made a terrible mistake.”
The woman asked the judge to consider her as a whole, not just by her mistakes.
The night before, Morley said, her two children had come to the jail in their Halloween costumes — Optimus Prime and a pink Power Ranger — and told her they wanted to bust her out from behind bars.
“Your Honor, they need me home,” Morley cried. “Please don’t make them grow up without a mother.”
But Lincoln’s mother, Alesha Penland, reminded Morley that on that same Halloween night, they went out trick-or-treating with just two of their kids, when there should have been three.
“I wish, more than anything, that you could realize the impact this has on everyone,” the mother said.
Hadley’s sentence was what prosecutors had asked for.
Deputy Weber County Attorney Letitia Toombs became emotional as she described the pain that the Penlands have gone through since the case was filed in 2014 — a pain they felt in isolation, as they were not able to share many of the details of the case until it went to trial.
The prosecutor said prison was the only appropriate sentence for the death of someone so innocent and vulnerable.
“Murderers go to prison,” Toombs said. “Ms. Morley stands before you as a convicted child killer. And that conviction warrants prison.”
Lincoln suffered devastating injuries on Feb. 19, 2014, while at Morley’s in-home day care in Roy. The infant’s skull was fractured, both arms were broken, and his brain and spine also sustained injuries. He died days later at Primary Children’s Hospital in his mother’s arms.
Prosecutors accused Morley — who was the only adult at the home that day — of grabbing the infant by his arms and slamming his head and body on a changing table.
Morley’s defense at trial was that it was Lincoln’s own brother, then-3-year-old Boston, who hurt him when Morley was out of the room for about 20 minutes.
The Penlands said that even though Morley apologized to them Wednesday, they had hoped to learn more about those final moments of Lincoln’s life and what really happened.
“You blamed Boston,” Alesha Penland said in court. “ … And that is what is the most crushing of this whole thing, is knowing that he was blamed when he did nothing but love his brother. I wish more than anything I could tell you all the times that we’ve found him crying in bed because he missed his brother so much.”
At the end of her statement, the mother held up framed photos of her son, telling those in court she did not want the last images in their minds to be of Lincoln’s autopsy photos, which were shown at trial.
The first photo was a shot of Lincoln, showing his smiling face and bright eyes.
The second, a photo that, at first glance, looks like a typical family portrait. A mother and a father and their children sit, smiling together in matching blues and yellows, a grove of trees in the background. But the oldest child, Boston, is holding that same framed photo of a smiling Lincoln.
“He meant the world to us and he still does,” Alesha Penland said of Lincoln. “And I want to remember this boy. … Lincoln will always be part of our family. Nothing is going to change that.”