66ºF

Baby Liberty's birth father given 9 months in jail

I-TEAM reports man who has custody of Liberty has similar criminal record

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A judge on Tuesday sentenced the biological father of a 19-month-year-old girl to nine months in jail for twice violating his probation on a conviction of domestic for beating his child's mother. 

Bradley Hornback, a convicted felon, was sentenced Tuesday to 270 days behind bars for twice not completing court-ordered counseling. Baby Liberty no longer lives with that family, but was placed in another relative's home where there is a history of abuse.

Last year, the girl was moved to the home of her paternal aunt and uncle, Chris and Shonna Hornback. The I-TEAM learned that Chris Hornback had an outstanding warrant for his arrest, and also a warrant violating probation tied to domestic violence against his wife.

For months, News4Jax has asked how that could happen and if the girl is safe. After Tuesday's sentencing, the new question is: How could two brothers facing similar charges could go before a judge and Bradley Hornback was sentenced to jail while Chris Honrback was handed a baby and walked out free and clear.

Domestic violence is a critical thread throughout Liberty Belle's case. When she was born, her mother took Liberty to a safe house, saying it was necessary to escape Bradley Hornback's abuse.

Liberty was eventually placed with her maternal aunt and uncle, Ginger and Keenan Phillips, a home deemed by LIberty's guardian ad litem as a safe and loving, family-like environment where Liberty was thriving for 10 months. Right before the Phillipes could adopt Liberty, a judge signed an order removing her from that home and placing her with Chris and Shonna Hornback.

The I-TEAM learned that there was an outstanding warrant for Chris Hornback for domestic battery and not completing court-ordered counseling at the time when he and his wife were awarded custody. We've also uncovered their father, Christopher Wayne Hornback, is also a convicted domestic abuser, which Ellen Siler, the CEO of Hubbard House said is a warning sign.

"It is not rare for family members who grew up with violence to turn around and repeat that violence," Siler said. "It is really important that there is effective intervention. You can not assume that just because someone says it won’t happen again, that it isn’t going to happen again."

Supporters of Baby Liberty have started an online petition to Judge David Gooding.

That effective intervention is court-ordered counseling, and it appears neither brother completed it. We asked attorney Gene Nichols, who is not affiliated with the case, how the brothers could have received such different outcomes.

"This may have been one (that), to a certain extent, slipped through the cracks because of a technicality," Nichols said.

That technicality is Chris Hornback's warrant was from 2013, and his probation can only last 12 months. Beyond that, the judge loses jurisdiction.  Liberty's case happened three years later.

Nichols said the court-ordered counseling could still be ordered.

"Regards to any custody hearing ... the judge in that case they can absolutely suggest or force him to take those courses if they feel they were necessary or not completed at first," Nichols said.


About the Author: