OSSIPEE — A Carroll County Superior Court judge Tuesday gave a Tamworth man the maximum sentence of 7½-15 years in state prison after he pleaded guilty to first-degree assault on his toddler son, resulting in brain injuries.
The judge also handed down a suspended sentence for a guilty plea to a falsifying physical evidence charge.
In front of Judge Amy Ignatius on Tuesday, Ryan Upson, 24, of Chocorua pleaded guilty to first degree assault and falsifying physical evidence in connection to crimes that occurred at a Deer Hill Road home on Dec. 10, 2018, and were reported by New Hampshire State Police the following day.
Prosecuting the case were Carroll County Attorney Michaela Andruzzi and Deputy Carroll County Attorney Steve Briden.
Representing Upson was Wade Harwood of Sisti Law in Chichester.
Laying out the case, Briden said Upson had become enraged because the little boy was being fussy. He said Upson hit the boy in the chest with an open palm strike that lifted the boy off the floor and caused his son to lose consciousness for 30 minutes.
Upson reportedly tried to revive the boy by shaking him. The boy nearly died, said Briden, who said the child had to be flown to Maine Medical Center in Portland.
Briden said Upson waited 30 minutes before bringing the boy to the hospital, then lied to the doctors about what happened. He also cleaned up the crime scene and only admitted what happened after being confronted by investigators.
Briden sought the maximum 7½-15-year sentence for the assault charge and 3½-seven years to be served consecutively on the falsifying physical evidence charge.
Harwood, on the other hand, said Upson had a “momentary lapse of judgement” and has otherwise been a productive member of society who had been working as a mason and is the father to several other children. He said he attack was preceded by a tough day in family court (pertaining to other children) and a stressful day at work.
Upson, according to Harwood, was not immediately aware of his son’s existence and agreed to take him in after learning about him and that the mother wasn’t prepared to be a parent. Harwood said Upson had been taking care of his son for six months prior to the assault.
Upson's attorney said that his client panicked after the incident and told a story that wasn’t true but confessed to police a few hours later.
Harwood said a two-to-four-year prison term and some additional time suspended would be more appropriate given his reading of other first-degree assault cases adjudicated around the state.
As originally charged, Upson was looking at 25 years to life.
Ignatius gave a detailed explanation of why she chose to impose the sentence she did.
She criticized the defense’s recommendation as being too light. She also said the problems were compounded by Upson not taking the child to the hospital right away, trying to shake him awake and then telling “a series of stories” to the doctors.
“I cannot accept the characterization of ‘haven’t we all been there with a fussy 2-year-old,’” said Ignatius. “I think that is a gross misstatement of the conduct that has been presented and Mr. Upson has pleaded guilty to.”
Ignatius said she has to balance rehabilitation, punishment and deterrence.
“The sentence that I do believe is appropriate is the maximum, 7½-15 years,” said Ignatius. “It is an extremely high sentence, I will not disagree with anybody who says that.”
But she said Upson was already getting a break because the state had agreed not to seek an enhanced penalty that could have sent him away for 25 years to life. She also acknowledged that Upson was taking responsibility by pleading guilty.
Ignatius also agreed that the falsifying evidence sentence should be suspended for five years from release.
Upson also was fined about $5,000, which also was suspended.
Ignatius called the whole case a “tragedy.” She called it a “miracle” that the boy even survived.
The boy is apparently now living with family on his mother’s side.
The criminal complaint of Class A felony domestic violence first-degree assault against Upson as read by Ignatius said Upson struck the boy, who struck his head, suffered a hematoma on his forehead, a 28 mm thick subdural hematoma in his left front parietal lobe and a subfalxian shift of 10 mm in his brain.
The falsifying physical evidence charge said Upson struck the boy, causing vomiting and bleeding and after taking the boy to Memorial Hospital in North Conway he cleaned the area where the boy struck his head.
Briden said the state doesn’t usually ask for maximum sentences, but that it was deserved due to the vulnerability of the victim and because Upson committed a serious assault.
“It was a strike that took that child right up to death’s door,” said Briden. “Fortunately for all of us, he (the toddler) was strong enough and the doctors were good enough that they were able to pull him back.”
The boy still has a long road ahead to recovery, said Briden adding that he may never completely recover. The child spent three weeks in the ICU after the attack, he said.
Harwood stressed that Upson realizes the seriousness of the assault.
“There is no doubt that the actions Ryan took this fateful night in December were completely unwarranted, cannot be justified in any way and he is here taking responsibility for that,” said Harwood.
Upson’s uncle and boss testified to Upson’s character and work ethic.
Paul Upton said the whole family has been suffering from the “tragedy.” He said the case is about “a young single parent losing it.” He said his nephew “always pulled his weight.
“I wish my own son had the same character as Ryan,” said Paul Upson. “I know that’s a strange place to be saying this here and now. I’m not trying to justify what happened. But what I can say is he’s a hard-working young man. His first instinct was to rush the child to the hospital.”
Paul Upson said Ryan didn’t realize the extent of his son’s injuries and that he cleaned up the vomit as he returned home to pack a diaper bag before heading off to Maine Med.
Paul Upson said it seemed reasonable that Upson would clean up the mess.
“A severe sentence in this case only compounds the family tragedy that occurred that night in December,” said Paul Upson. “It’s too bad that there’s a difference between when an average person loses it and someone who functions as a brick mason with all that extra strength loses it with their child.”
Next to speak was Ryan Upson's boss, Daren Boothby, who said Upson was “the best employee he ever had” and said he was always on time, honest and exceeded his expectations on the job.
He said whenever he saw Upson with the child, he seemed to be a great father.
“Ryan knows what he did wasn’t right and he regrets that and lives with it every day,” said Boothby.