Author: Phil Trexler, Beacon Journal staff writer
Kelsey Hyre wanted what many 2-year-olds want for Christmas -- her first bike.
But thanks to her adoptive father, she had to settle for a new wheelchair. It's a seat she'll have for the rest of her life.
Gerald B. Hyre of Akron said Monday he was sorry, that it was all an accident, that he didn't mean to lose his temper and hurt the little girl he and his wife had adopted from Russia only months earlier.
Summit County Common Pleas Judge Jane Bond was moved to tears while recounting Kelsey's bleak future after being paralyzed from the waist down when she was slammed on her back by her father for crying too much.
In the end, the judge handed Hyre, 32, the maximum sentence: 16 years in prison for felonious assault and child endangering. Bond said it appears Hyre abused the girl almost from the time she landed in America.
"The harm you have caused to this child and to her future is so great, that no single prison term can adequately reflect that," Bond told Hyre in a voice cracking with emotion.
Hyre's attorneys, Kirk Migdal and Joy Chicatelli, argued for lighter sentencing, mentioning his lack of a criminal record and his remorse. Hyre pleaded guilty last month.
"It's a horrific thing that happened," Migdal said. "But it is a set of circumstances that he never intended."
Afterward, Hyre's supporters cried; Kelsey's foster family prepared to return home to care for the little girl. Some left the courtroom stunned at the severity of the sentence, others mumbled that it was not enough.
Susan and Charles Minick of Suffield Township are Kelsey's foster parents. The couple specializes in providing care for physically disabled foster children.
Susan Minick read a statement before the sentencing, briefing the judge on Kelsey's daily challenges. The girl requires around-the-clock care. For visual effect, she held up the leg braces the girl wears to help her stand.
Later, she recalled one of Kelsey's 67 doctor visits since being injured in September in which "she screamed constantly and refused any effort to hold or comfort her."
She said the girl suffers from post-traumatic stress and was distrustful of adults, seemingly "afraid of everyone who approached her."
"I soon learned that her emotional needs equaled her physical needs," Susan Minick said.
She recalled another visit with a doctor in which she was shown Hyre's photo.
"She screamed, covered her face and said, 'No. Daddy,' " Minick said.
Hyre and his wife, Bonnie, traveled to Russia and adopted Kelsey and 30-month-old Nathan in January 2002 through a private agency in Medina after failing to conceive a child on their own. Nathan has been removed from the home and placed with his maternal grandmother.
Bonnie Hyre has not been charged, although a police investigation is ongoing. She did not attend the sentencing.
Hyre, a grocery store worker, initially told doctors and police that Kelsey suffered the injury when he accidentally dropped her Sept. 25 at his Kenmore home.
But doctors discovered the explanation was inconsistent with the girl's nearly severed spine. Medical evidence suggested she was slammed against an object.
In court, Bond read from a sentencing report in which Hyre admitted: "I couldn't get her to stop crying. I lost control."
Hyre's stepmother, Teri, told the judge that "she never doubted that Jerry would be a good father." She asked Bond for leniency, calling it a "tragic accident."
"The things that they're saying today . . . that's a monster. Jerry is not a monster," she said.
But assistant Summit County Prosecutor Beth Aronson urged Bond to impose the maximum sentence, calling the case "truly, truly heartbreaking."
"It's the simple things that Kelsey is not able to do that makes this case so tragic," Aronson said. "The defendant has sentenced Kelsey to a lifetime in a wheelchair."