A Sandusky man pleaded guilty Tuesday to the 2012 beating death of his girlfriend's 3-year-old child.
Michael Milner, 26, of Fulton Street, pleaded guilty to one count of aggravated murder Tuesday afternoon in an Erie County courtroom, avoiding the possibility of the death penalty.
In exchange for the plea, prosecutors agreed to drop charges of murder, felonious assault and child endangering.
Milner will now face four possible sentencing decisions at his Aug. 7 court hearing: life without parole, or life with the possibility of parole after 20, 25 or 30 years, Erie County prosecutor Kevin Baxter said.
Though Erie County Common Pleas Court Judge Roger Binette will have the final say in that ruling, Baxter agreed to not ask the court for life without parole — that is, he is recommending Milner be sentenced to one of the three latter possibilities.
Prior to Wednesday's hearing, prosecutors spoke with Owen's four grandparents — Hope and Tim Barker, along with the parents of Milner's co-defendant, Danielle Flannery — who signed off on the deal, Baxter said.
Though Milner's case did not ultimately progress to trial, those affected by Owen's death will have the opportunity to speak before he's sentenced.
Binette said the court is reserving two full days for that hearing to give Milner, family members and others ample time to make statements.
“I want to hear all sides before sentencing,” Binette said.
Milner was direct at the hearing, occasionally answering questions before Binette was quite finished asking them. The only time his voice wavered and turned despondent was when he reached the phrase “I plead guilty.”
The courtroom, meanwhile, was nearly filled — multiple prosecutors and defense attorneys, several Sandusky police officers including Chief John Orzech, relatives of Owen's father, Kyle, and a group of those there for Milner himself.
As he was escorted from the room, Milner told the group “I love you guys,” with one man responding, “love you too, Mike.”
Milner has been behind bars for nearly two years. On July 30, 2012, Owen died from a fatal blow to the chest. Investigators later learned the child suffered heavy internal and external bruising to his head, lungs and abdomen.
Owen's mother, Flannery, was at work that day and allowed Milner to babysit at their Fulton Street home.
Milner maintained Owen slipped and fell on a toy, but officials determined the boy suffered abuse numerous times prior to his death.
Flannery, 23, was charged with involuntary manslaughter, but pleaded guilty to a first-degree felony permitting child abuse charge in December. In late February, Binette sentenced Flannery to 11 years in prison.