WEST JORDAN — A man who scalded his baby son in too-hot bathtub water, then fled to Hawaii just before his trial, received the maximum prison sentence of zero to five years Monday.
Eric Ison Jones also got a fiery lecture from the judge.
"You probably put that baby in that water by accident, but when men make mistakes, men take responsibility," said 3rd District Judge Mark Kouris. "They are not cowards and run away."
Jones previously pleaded guilty to child abuse or neglect, a third-degree felony, for putting his 13-month-old boy, Malachi Marsalis, in a bathtub of scalding water on Nov. 1, 2006, while the baby's mother was gone for about an hour.
The child suffered second- and third-degree burns on his lower body, and has undergone repeated skin grafts and other surgeries.
Jones, 37, later criticized the child's mother and initially told police the boy was fine when Jones left the Taylorsville apartment that day. Then he fled to Hawaii shortly before his trial was to begin. He was arrested there months later and brought back to Utah.
In court Monday, Jones again began to criticize the baby's female relatives, denied deliberately hurting the child or any of his other five children, and said he did not want to go to prison because he wanted to make things right and have a relationship with Malachi. Jones said he loved all his children, including Malachi, and would never hurt a child.
He did not say he was sorry.
Kouris erupted at Jones when Jones began to contradict and argue with the judge. Jones also mentioned some kind of misunderstanding about the trial.
"You thought perhaps the trial had been moved to Hawaii?" the judge asked in an incredulous voice.
"I don't believe you did this on purpose," Kouris said. "Parents make mistakes. The problem is what you did after that."
Instead of Jones admitting he might have done something wrong, instead of calling for help, instead of staying with the child's mother, grandmother and sister night after night at the hospital, Jones took off, the judge said.
"If you had been there up at the hospital every night wondering if this little guy was going to make it, you'd be standing in front of me and I'd say, 'Sir, you made a mistake, but you can walk out that door,' " Kouris said.
"You've done nothing right here."
Kouris said he would recommend to the Utah parole board that Jones "spend every single minute" of the prison term and gave no credit for time already spent in jail. Kouris also left the issue of restitution open for a year to see how much the various medical bills will be.
On the day Malachi was injured, his mother, Genoria Marsalis, had taken her mother, who was facing back surgery, to an exercise class so the older woman could lose weight before her surgery. Jones showed up unannounced and offered to watch the boy.
When Genoria Marsalis returned and tried to change Malachi's diaper, the child's skin peeled off as she removed clothing. Malachi was taken by helicopter to Primary Children's Medical Center.
Jones' attorney, Karen Stam, said her client simply panicked that day and had redressed the child after realizing the water had been too hot, "hoping and praying" all the while that things were not too bad. She also disputed the reported amount of time the child was in the water and said the boy was quickly removed after Jones realized it was so hot.
However, the child's grandmother, Hattie Grant, wept as she insisted that Jones had never wanted the baby and had told her daughter to get an abortion when pregnant with Malachi.
"This was no mistake," Grant said, sobbing. "This was something he had planned in his mind all the time."
Grant said the child "suffered and suffered and suffered," and there were times when his family thought the boy was going to die, despite their fervent prayers.
"How could you do it?" Grant said, her voice rising. "How could you do it?"
Malachi, now 3, is a healthy-looking child but will need more surgeries and medical treatment to stretch his skin as he grows.