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Brewer man convicted in death of infant son gets nearly 7 years in prison

Ronald Harding was sentenced to 15 years total, but he will serve just over six years of his sentence. He will also serve six years of probation post-release.

BANGOR, Maine — The Brewer man who was convicted of manslaughter in the 2021 death of his 6-week-old son, Jaden, was sentenced to 15 years on Tuesday.

Ronald Harding will serve nearly seven years of his 15-year sentence, a judge said in a Penobscot County court. Harding will also serve six years of probation after his release.

The prosecution said Jaden died of a stroke after being violently shaken by Harding. 

In addition to his sentencing, the judge ruled that Harding must maintain consistent employment following his release, and he is prohibited from being around children 12 years old and under without supervision. 

In his closing remarks before the ruling, Harding's defense attorney asked the judge to consider Harding's clean criminal record, pointing out that he has never been convicted of a crime before. 

Ashe also mentioned that Harding has a learning disability that results in him appearing to be disengaged or emotionless when interacting with other people. He said this cognitive hindrance was the reason he didn't want Harding to testify in court. 

The judge said that when determining his sentencing, she considered the fact that there were no signs that Jaden suffered regular abuse, and his death was a result of a single incident. She said Harding's background supports the argument that he is a good candidate for rehabilitation. 

In her ruling, the judge said she believes the sentencing of 15 years with the suspension of nearly nine of those years is proper and fitting for the crime committed. 

Harding's father attended the sentencing. After the judge gave her final remarks, Harding's father said, "Call us as soon as you can." 

His father also said he does not feel all things were considered in the sentencing, but he declined to specify his statements. 

Harding's attorney refused to make further comment. 

Assistant Attorney General Leanne Robbin, who prosecuted the case, said she is satisfied with the conviction.

"We have been advocating for higher sentences in these cases because we believe they are serious that we need to send a message to parents, adults, and other caregivers that it is never — never permissible to shake a baby," Robbin said outside of the courtroom after the sentencing. 

Robbin said she doesn't agree with the defense attorney's argument that a learning disability caused Harding to seem emotionless about the death of his son.

"We do not necessarily agree that there's a learning disability going on. There's certainly a lack of compassion and a lack of empathy and that is in our view a serious aggravating circumstance," Robbin said. "If you look at videos that we've presented of Mr. Harding responding to the first responders — of him talking to the medical providers, he does not show any empathy or grief."

According to Robbin, Jaden’s mother lost everything as a result of Harding’s actions, including custody of her other children. Robin said she suffered extensive emotional trauma and worse from the loss of her son. 

"Her life was entirely disrupted, and she even lost her housing as a result of this," Robbin said. "She will never be able to see her six-week-old baby grow up." 

Harding's previous court appearance

Harding's defense attorney, William Ashe, asked the judge for an acquittal because the lawyer said he didn't believe the jury had "sufficient evidence" to convict Harding.

The judge denied the motion.

In closing arguments, Robbin told the jury Harding was responsible for violently shaking his infant son. She said the baby was brain-dead when he arrived at Northern Light Eastern Maine Medical Center.

"Only one person was with Jaden when he lost consciousness, and that person was Ronald Harding," Robbin said. "No one else could have inflicted the injury that caused Jaden to lose consciousness."

Meanwhile, Ashe argued Jaden had signs of sepsis which caused his death.

"The evidence has proven beyond a reasonable doubt that Ronald Harding is innocent," Ashe said. "As he said, his son was everything to him."

On May 31, Harding reportedly called 911 to report his son Jaden Harding was unresponsive and not breathing, according to a news release from Maine State Police.

On Wednesday and Thursday, experts testified. Dr. Elizabeth Bundock, Vermont's Chief Medical Examiner, testified she found the baby had several hemorrhages, including subdural bleeding, in his brain.

According to Bundock, the most common cause of subdural bleeding is injury, like whiplash, from fast movement of the head in relation to the skull.

The defense's expert said the baby had died of COVID complications after the baby had tested positive for COVID at the hospital, but two additional tests were negative.

Harding is being held without bail in the Penobscot County Jail. 

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