The Sandusky man who beat a three-year-old boy to death will be locked behind bars for the rest of his life.
Michael Milner, 26, was sentenced Friday to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
The sentencing decision came about two years after the death of Owen Barker, the son of Milner's then-girlfriend, Danielle Flannery, who left Owen in Milner's care on July 30, 2012 at their Fulton Street home.
Police and prosecutors said Milner fatally beat the boy that day. An autopsy later revealed the child had suffered ongoing trauma in the days, weeks and months leading up to his death.
When a deal was struck in late May, Milner agreed to plead guilty to one count of aggravated murder. In return, Erie County prosecutor Kevin Baxter took the death penalty off the table.
Baxter recommended Milner be sentenced to life with the possibility of parole after 20, 25, or 30 years, but on Friday, Erie County Common Pleas Court Judge Roger Binette opted for a fourth option: a lifetime jail sentence.
The sentence was handed down after hours of testimony from Milner's relatives, Owen's father and his family, as well as Milner's psychologist and even Milner himself.
“I'm not a monster. I made a huge mistake —I would do anything in my power to bring him back,” Milner told the court.
“I am broken by this. I want to fix what's wrong with me,” he said.
While Milner will get that opportunity, he'll have to do it behind bars.
“I, honestly, am happy that I don't ever have to see him again. But nothing will fix what's happened,” said Kyle Barker, Owen's father.
In court, Kyle spoke of his brief, recent stay at the Erie County jail, where he encountered the man who ended his child's life.
“When I saw him, he gave me a nice big ol' smile. I don't see any remorse,” Kyle said.
“I think now, since all this is over with and we know that we're getting our justice, that it'll be easier to just try and remember Owen and...stop hating (Milner) so much and focus our energy on (Owen)” said Kyle's sister, and Owen's aunt, Kassandra Barker.
Kyle's and Kassandra's mother, Hope Barker, echoed that sentiment.
“Its not about him anymore, its about our loss,” Hope said.
“He did destroy not only our lives and Danielle's family's (lives), but his own family's,” Hope said.
Milner's impact on the people around him was also apparent when Flannery's sister addressed the court.
“You are a coward, you are an evil human being,” she said. “I hope Owen haunts you for the rest of your days.”
Flannery's mother, who chose not to appear because she did not want to see Milner, submitted a written statement to the court.
“I'm glad you will have the rest of your life to digest the lives you've ruined,” she wrote.
Milner, in jail garb and chains, nodded as her words were read aloud.
He showed little outward emotion during the proceedings, but some relatives who were there to support him were not as stony-faced — as Binette prepared to hand down the sentence, Milner's grandmother nearly fainted and had to be treated by paramedics inside the courthouse.
Milner's psychologist argued that his violent tendencies were a result of three key factors: a dysfunctional family, a “bipolar spectrum disorder,” and a lifelong chemical dependency.
“It's like a balloon almost at the bursting point. Touch it with a pin and there's...no stopping it,” the doctor said.
The psychologist said when he was a child, Milner learned two options to cope with a difficult situation: “get high or hit something.”
But both Binette and Baxter did not buy that argument.
They pointed out that Milner shared a family, a home, a bedroom, an entire childhood with a sibling who willingly opted to take a different path.
“You have a twin brother...that did not kill a three-year-old. Could it be that he chose not to go in the direction (you did)?” Baxter said.
Binette also took issue with what the psychologist said regarding Milner's lack of choice when it came to aggression.
The judge noted that Milner and Flannery often argued — but he questioned the fact that Milner never assaulted Flannery, only her little boy.
“He didn't hurt (Danielle). He hurt Owen,” Binette said. “He went against the child and not her.”'
Flannery is already incarcerated for her role in Owen's death. In February, Binette sentenced her to 11 years in prison on a first-degree felony count of permitting child abuse.
“It's unfathomable,” Hope Barker said after the hearing.
“(Owen's) our little superhero — he suffered so much, but now we can move on and try to heal.”