A Vandalia woman who was convicted of causing serious and permanent damage to her infant child two years ago was sentenced on Friday to 27 years in prison.
Aubree Hammer was sentenced by Fayette County Resident Circuit Judge Don Sheafor to just three years fewer than the maximum penalty allowed by law for the crime of aggravated battery of a child under the age of 13, causing severe bodily harm and permanent damage, a Class X felony.
Sheafor sentenced Hammer at the end of a day-long hearing that included testimony from three state witnesses – the first medical person to see Hammer’s 3½-month-old Everett after he sustained serious injuries and two law enforcement officers – and a forensic psychiatrist who testified on Hammer’s behalf.
In March of 2016, the office of Fayette County State’s Attorney Joshua Morrison filed information alleging that Hammer “knowingly caused great bodily harm and permanent disability … to a child under the age of 13 in that she held (the child) head-high and threw him to the wooden floor, causing brain damage.”
Hammer, who was represented by court-appointed attorney Patrick Schaufelberger, signed an open plea of guilty to the offense in October of last year.
Under Illinois law, Hammer will be required to serve at least 85 percent of the 27-year sentence. She is being given credit for 772 days served in Fayette County Jail since her arrest.
After the sentencing, Morrison said, “I am very happy with the sentence.
“I think the judge exercised his discretion and gave her a little bit less than the maximum, but the sentence is definitely earned.
“He (Everett) is going to have the same day every day for the rest of his life, however long or short it is, and she deserves to be punished for that,” Morrison said.
Among those to testify at the sentencing was Deidre Langston, a nurse practitioner at the Fayette County Hospital Wellness Complex who examined Everett when his mother brought took him to the facility in March 2016.
Langston said that the infant was scheduled to have examinations at two months and four months, but that his mother brought him in at age 3½ months.
She testified that the infant’s head was twice the normal size, that he had a large bruise on his head, that his arms were limp and his skin was gray, and that his eyes were rolling back in his head.
Langston said that she contacted a doctor, who told her to immediately call 911, and that emergency medical personnel arrived within 10 minutes.
She testified that the emergency room doctor at Fayette County Hospital called her and told her that Everett “had coded” (had a heart attack) on the way to the hospital.
A whole-body X-ray, she said, determined that Everett had both old and new injuries, including a skull fracture.
Langston testified that doctors at Cardinal Glennon Hospital told her, “He is not going to get any better.”
Everett, she said, is fed by tube, has frequent seizures and cannot comprehend what he sees or hears.
He requires blood pressure medications and cannot control his own body temperature. “He requires 24-hour care,” Langston said.
“He has no quality of life,” Langston said. “In my personal opinion, he would be better off dead.
“He could still die from the consequences of his mother’s actions,” she said.
Also testifying was Jeff Kline, a special agent with the Illinois State Police who is an officer with the Child Death Investigation Task Force.
Kline added information as segments of a four-hour investigation with Hammer were shown.
On one of the segments, ISP Special Agent Timothy Brown asked Hammer how her son was injured.
She said that she had gone to bed at 10:30 p.m. and woke up at midnight for a feeding.
On the video, Hammer said that she took Everett out of his crib and that when she went to sit down, her feet got tangled up. “When I fell, I fell on top of him. I held his head; he did not hit his head.
“The only mistake I could have made was when I laid him on the ground,” she said.
Asked if the side of his head could have hit the ground, Hammer said, “Yes.”
Asked how hard she put him down, Hammer said, “I don’t know.”
Asked if it could have been hard enough to cause his injuries, she said, “Probably. I was very upset with him.”
At that point, Kline told the court, “I don’t see tears where you expect to see them.”
In the final DVD of the interview, Brown continually tells Hammer that they “just want the truth.”
He asked whether her actions that caused Everett’s injuries could have been “because you were so freaked out?” “Yes,” Hammer said.
“I don’t have the proper medicine. I would never throw my child down,” she said during the interview.
Hammer said that she was upset by her 1-year-old daughter at the time.
Brown repeatedly told Hammer that the infant’s injuries could not come from simply laying him on the floor, and using a doll as a prop, he asked whether she might have thrown the baby down or just dropped him.
“That’s what I did,” Hammer said during the interview.
The morning portion of the hearing included testimony from Vandalia Police Department Detective Jake Bowling, a statement of allocution from Hammer and an impact statement from Dana Andrews, Everett’s grandmother.
Reading that statement, Andrews said, that Hammer’s daughter “will know exactly who you are and what you did.
“Everything has changed for me. I am barely able to work anymore,” she said, noting that the had missed her son’s wedding and will miss her daughter’s wedding.
“I have watched him suffer daily,” Andrews said. “You tortured this person for over a week” before taking him to a medical facility.
“I hope your sentence is long enough that you won’t be able to have another child,” she said.
“I would gladly give my life to have his back,” Andrews said.
After the hearing, The Leader-Union offered Andrews the opportunity to make a statement on Hammer’s sentence. She provided that statement on Monday.
“It’s been a long time coming,” she said. “I know the judge gave her as much time as he could.
“I’m pleased with the sentence, but I still think she deserves a life sentence – she gave (Everett) one,” Andrews said.
She thanked Morrison and Kira Palmer of Morrison’s office “for their patience and compassion,” and Langston for testifying.
“I know how hard it was for her. Everett holds a special place in her heart,” Andrews said. “I think her testimony weighted heavily on everyone.
“Most of all, I’d like to thank Judge Sheafor. I feel the (Department of Children and Family Services) failed these children, but Judge Sheafor didn’t,” Andrews said in the statement.
The lone defense witness testifying at the hearing was Dr. Terry Killian, a forensic psychiatrist who interviewed Hammer after being contacted by Schaufelberger.
Killian said that initially, Hammer said that she did not know what happened, that she told police and emergency medical services personel “she thought that her daughter threw a sippy cup and caused the injury.”
He testified that Hammer said that when she took Everett in to see Langston, “He seemed fine, maybe a little more tired that morning and wasn’t eating well.
“She mentioned multiple times that she had not had her medication that day,” and “she said she might have hurt Everett.”
Killian testified that Hammer did not initially “mention hearing voices. The first time she mentioned that was several days later.
“Detective Bowling pretty accurately reported that Aubree said there was a voice telling her to hurt Everett, that Everett was evil,” Killian said.
He also testified that Hammer told her that she had been “angry with Matthew (Hubbartt) and frustrated with taking care of two very young children.”
In watching the video of Hammer’s interview with police, he said, “One point in particular (Hammer) struck me as being very believable was about the voices,” Killian said.
“She spontaneously said that sometimes it would tell me to kill Everett and I was a bad mom because I didn’t kill him,” he said, adding that Aubree then said, “I didn’t want to kill him.”
Killian said that he asked Hammer, “Why just him?” He said that she responded, “I was hoping you would be able to tell me that.”
He testified that she “was a happy person” prior to “the onset of depression and severe anxiety” in 2010, adding that she had been diagnosed with bipolar.
Killian said that Hammer told him, “I believed, and I still believe, that the devil tried to take over my body.”
He testified that she had extreme postpartum depression after the birth of her daughter, and that she admitted, “I know I wasn’t quite ready to have him.”
“She clearly has a mood disorder,” Killian said. “I’m not sure specifically if it’s bipolar.”
Asked by Schaufelberger if he believed that “psychotic disorder played a substantial role in what happened with the baby,” Killian said, “Yes.”
During cross examination, Morrison asked Killian why Hammer did not initially say anything about hearing voices. “The voices told her not to say anything.
“It absolutely is not an unusual thing,” Killian said.
Asked whether it was common for a person such as Hammer to minimize her involvement, blaming her daughter or boyfriend.
“It’s not that unusual,” Killian said.
“It wasn’t just “the voices did this,’” he said.
In his argument for a 30-year sentence, Morrison said, “My argument is simple – today is the only day this baby will have different.
“He may never leave his house or have a different day than the other day. It will be the same day every day.
“The defendant callously put this child in this position,” Morrison said.
“This child will never recover, will never have a quality of life. He has no hope to ever play with other children or his grandmother.
“He will never sit up on his own,” Morrison said.
He argued that Hammer “waited approximately five days before concocting the story on hearing voices,” and that she complained about never having help with her young children.
“She had a grandparent three houses away. She could have asked for help at any time,” Morrison said.
“There is nothing redeeming for what’s happened,” he said. “She has given Everett a life sentence.
“He will die never knowing who he is,” Morrison said.
Schaufelberger, who requested a 10-year sentence, said that in his 27 years of practicing law, “This is the most difficult thing I’ve been confronted with. I has been a gut-wrenching case at times.”
In support of a lighter sentence, Schaufelberger said that Hammer has not been “a habitual law-breaker” and that she has been “respectful to the court throughout the process.
“I think she’s very humbled by this,” Schaufelberger said.
“I believe there is some indication that she was at home with no help. She talks about that she has zero support,” he said.
“We did not see the father testify or offer support,” Schaufelberger said.
“I believe that she’s done the right thing – she pled guilty,” he said.
In sentencing Hammer, Sheafor said that he believed it “noteworthy”’ that the presentencing report included statements from Hammer saying that “voices were telling her to shake (Everett), to throw him and watch him bounce like a ball.”
He said that she had admitted to being frustrated with her daughter, and that she said the “voice continued to talk to her in jail.”
Sheafor said that Hammer was asked why she wasn’t violent to others in jail, she said that she did not want her razor to be taken from her.
“That tells me she is able to control the voices, but yet she couldn’t when told to throw her child,” Sheafor said.
He said that Hammer said, “He may have a little brain damage, but he is alive.”
Sheafor said, “It appeared the child has been abused repeatedly. It appears to me that this was not an isolated incident.”
During the presentencing interview, Sheafor said, Hammer said, “Matt is just as much to blame,” and “at one point tried to blame (her daughter).
Everett, he said, will have no “developmental progress and will likely die an early death.”
Sheafor told Hammer that Schaufelberger “has done above and beyond” what could be expected of him as a defense attorney.
He said that Hammer admitted to being overwhelmed with the two children, that she wanted to give him up for adoption and that she was “frustrated with her relationship with Matthew.
“I can’t imagine a child looking around and not being able to understand what he sees,” Sheafor said
“On one hand, I see Mr. Schaufelberger’s argument (about a mood disorder),” Sheafor said. But, he added, “I don’t think you were provoked.
“No one forced you to do this,” he said.
On the point of whether Hammer could commit a similar offense again, Sheafor said, “I feel that under the circumstances you were in, it could occur the next time you became pregnant or have some type of anxiety.
“I was almost convinced that you intended to kill (Everett),” he said.
“I am to the point that I find that a low sentence would deprecate the seriousness of this case,” Sheafor said.