A Springville teenager who fatally beat his girlfriend’s 23-month-old son told a judge Friday that he did not intend to kill the toddler.
“I never wanted to hurt Austin. I never wanted Austin to die,” Dylan Schumaker, 17, said in a tearful apology to his 19-year-old girlfriend in a Buffalo courtroom.
Jurors who convicted Schumaker of second-degree murder last month didn’t buy it.
Neither did State Supreme Court Justice M. William Boller. He sentenced Schumaker to 25 years to life in prison, the maximum punishment.
“At 16 you knew right from wrong,” Boller told Schumaker, who turned 17 this week. “You knew it was wrong to keep punching his head.”
Schumaker previously testified he put a pillow on the back of Austin’s head and punched it to stop him from crying and waking his baby brother.
The March 19 attack occurred while he was baby-sitting Austin and Austin’s 3-month-old brother.
Schumaker lived with his mother, along with Ashlee Smith and her two sons, in his mother’s home on Cochran Avenue. He was 16 at the time of the attack. Neither of the children was his.
The judge called the trial testimony gut-wrenching. Witnesses described the attack and Austin’s extensive head injuries that led to brain bleeding and the toddler’s death.
The judge said the last minutes of Austin’s life must have been terrifying. “He loved you, he trusted you, and you betrayed him,” Boller said.
The judge questioned Schumaker’s testimony at trial that he did not intend to kill Austin or realize his actions could kill the toddler.
Boller called Schumaker “a manipulator and deceiver.”
The judge said he took note of a comment Schumaker made in a phone conversation with his mother last July while in the Erie County Holding Center awaiting trial.
“I’m a 16-year-old blond. Probably all I have to do is cry, and they’re going to feel sorry for me,” Schumaker told her, referring to the jury.
The judge also cited the 200 texts Schumaker sent as he baby-sat the two children while his girlfriend worked her night job at a Springville restaurant.
In those texts, the judge noted, Schumaker tried to set up a sexual tryst with a girl and sell drugs to his friends.
“But when the texting stopped, the beating started,” Boller said.
For a 17-year-old, Schumaker has caused so much pain and grief for so many people, the judge said. He said he received letters from 13 people describing how Schumaker’s crime impacted them.
“The night of March 19, my family’s life was decimated because this didn’t have to happen,” Michael Smith, Austin’s grandfather, told the judge in court, his voice breaking.
“He had numerous opportunities to get out” of the house and seek help, Smith said. “But he didn’t.”
Smith asked the judge to consider the family’s feelings in sentencing Schumaker.
“We’ll never get Austin back,” he said, crying. “A piece of our heart will always be missing.”
Joseph Terranova, Schumaker’s attorney, agreed with Smith.
“This didn’t have to happen,” Terranova told the judge. “If the Smith family hadn’t thrown Ashlee and her children out” of the house, “they wouldn’t have ended up at Dylan’s home,” with the children being baby-sat by a teenager who was unable to control his anger and ill-equipped to take care of them.
Doctors prescribed medicine for Schumaker to treat his anger and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, but he chose not to take it, Schumaker said during the trial.
Terranova said the minimum sentence of 15 years to life would be a more reasonable punishment, given his client’s tough childhood, his remorse over Austin’s death and his inability to take care of children.
“What about the protection of the community?” the judge asked Terranova. “If he is released in 15 years, who’s to say it won’t happen again?”
The defense attorney said no one can predict what will happen, but he assured the judge that his client “is not a serial killer who will get out and want to kill another kid.”
“To blame anyone other than Dylan for what happened flies in the face of reality,” said homicide prosecutor Colleen Curtin Gable.
Although Schumaker was inexperienced as a baby sitter, what he did to Austin is not what a normal 16-year-old would have done, she said.
By taking in Ashlee Smith and her children into his mother’s home, “I was trying to do what my father didn’t do – be there,” Schumaker told the judge.
He then turned to Ashlee Smith. “Ashlee, I’m sorry,” he said, crying as she and others started crying. “I never wanted to hurt Austin. I never wanted Austin to die. I don’t know why I didn’t go for help.”
He told the judge he did not have a good family life growing up, but he thanked his family members for attending the sentencing.
As he was brought into court for sentencing, Schumaker cried out, “I didn’t mean to hurt him. You know I loved Austin.”
During his trial, Schumaker told the jury that he slapped Austin’s face and spanked him when he spit out his food and used an obscenity. He also admitted he slammed the boy’s head on the floor while changing his diaper as the child tried to get up and that he later put a pillow over the back of his head and punched it three times because he was afraid that the boy would wake up his baby brother.
He said it was only the second time he had taken care of both the boys.