Father of baby who drowned in tub: It was biggest mistake of my life

Man awaits sentence in 9-month-old son's drowning

Author: Erica Rakow, General assignment reporter, erakow@wjxt.com
Kumasi Aaron, Reporter, weekend anchor, kaaron@wjxt.com
Christopher Yazbec, News editor, News4Jax.com, cyazbec@wjxt.com
Published On: Jan 16 2014 07:00:27 AM EST   Updated On: Jan 16 2014 06:17:19 PM EST
YULEE, Fla. -

A Nassau County judge heard emotional testimony Thursday from the father found guilty in the death of his baby.

The judge first denied a motion for a new trial for Robert Jerrell, 35, who was convicted last month of aggravated manslaughter for leaving his 9-month-old son alone in a bathtub at their Callahan home in May 2012. The boy drowned.

Jerrell told the judge what happened to his son was the biggest mistake of his life and he would always carry it with him.

His statement came after about an hour and a half of testimony from family members, all of whom talked about how good of a father Jerrell was to his son Aaron. They pleaded to the judge to not leave Jerrell's other 3-year-old son without a father.

The baby's grandmother has stood by the boy's father all along.

"I went through so many emotions: grief, anger, questions. I'm just completely distraught," said Karen Lee.

Lee testified at Thursday's sentencing hearing, saying, "Losing a son is more punishment than any of us can imagine."

Jerrell's wife and mother of the baby called his death a "terrible mistake," telling the judge Jerrell's other son "needs his father."

Jerrell was at home with the baby and his then-2-year-old son when he put both in a bathtub filled with water. After a period of time, Jerrell took the 2-year-old out but left his 9-month-old son in the tub unsupervised, long enough that he drowned.

The baby's grandmother said it wasn't intentional.

"He would have died for them," Lee said. "Those were his babies and he loved them."

Jerrell said he went to find a gas can for his brother and when he came back it was too late.

"It's a misunderstanding between the two brothers because one brother thought the other had taken the 9-month-old out of the tub," Lee said.

The state countered, saying the jury found Jerrell to be negligent, bringing up his issues with substance abuse. Prosecutors also brought up Jerrell's failure to complete the Department of Children and Families programs needed to see his 3-year-old son.

Sentencing guidelines suggest 13 years in prison for Jerrell. The prosecution asked the judge for 25 years, saying Jerrell is a habitual felony offender.

But the defense said this was an isolated incident and asked for probation with some kind of drug rehabilitation that would allow him to return to his family.

Jerrell's family and his attorney did not want to comment after the hearing.

The judge will make his decision on sentencing on Jan. 30.