ALFRED — An Arundel man who killed his infant son last year was sentenced Wednesday to 20 years in prison and the maximum 14 years of probation, during which he is to have no contact with his other son.
Gordon Collins-Faunce, who was severely abused as a young child, pleaded guilty Wednesday in York County Superior Court to manslaughter and assault as part of a plea agreement that averted a murder trial.
Collins-Faunce admitted to killing his 2½-month-old son, Ethan, by squeezing his head and throwing him against a chair. He also confessed that he broke the infant’s arm six weeks earlier – an injury that should have triggered intervention by state or medical professionals.
He also admitted that he inflicted rib and head injuries on the boy in the intervening weeks.
“It’s a horrible child abuse case,” said Assistant Attorney General Lisa Marchese. “He crushed his son’s skull.”
Collins-Faunce, dressed in the orange sweatshirt and pants of a county jail inmate, with his legs chained at the ankles, did not address Justice John O’Neil at the sentencing.
His mother, Jan Collins, did speak, recounting the terrible childhood that Collins-Faunce had before she and her husband adopted him when he was 8, and how that trauma may have haunted him as he struggled to cope with raising a family.
Collins-Faunce and his two sisters endured sexual, emotional and physical abuse as they moved from their biological family to a series of foster families, she said.
Collins and Irving Faunce, a nursing home administrator who was mayor of Gardiner, adopted all three and raised them through high school. The children were polite, generous and engaged in sports and music, Collins said.
MOVED IN WITH BIOLOGICAL FATHER
Eventually, however, Collins-Faunce sought out his birth parents, even though Faunce read to him the state’s account of abuse he had suffered as a child.
Collins-Faunce and Christina Henderson moved into a house in Arundel with Collins-Faunce’s biological father and she gave birth to twins, Ethan and his brother Lucas. She had a 2-year-old daughter from a previous relationship.
Collins said she called “the abuse and neglect hotline” when the couple moved in with the father. She told the judge she believes that in that environment, her son could not cope with the post-traumatic stress disorder from his own abuse.
“I know Gordon loved Ethan,” she said through tears. “I know he still loves Ethan and Lucas.
“Gordon is not a bad person. He has never been a bad person,” Collins told O’Neil, adding that her son had never been in trouble with the law, not even a speeding ticket. She said she fears what awaits her son in prison and worries that he won’t get the counseling he needs.
O’Neil sentenced Collins-Faunce to serve 20 years of a 30-year manslaughter sentence, with suspended sentences of eight and five years, respectively, on two assault charges. The sentences are consecutive so Collins-Faunce could serve as much as 23 more years in prison if he violates probation after he is released.
Christina Henderson also spoke in court, saying Collins-Faunce cost her everything she held dear in life. Her daughter and Ethan’s twin brother have been placed with a foster family that plans to adopt them.
“Ethan did not deserve any of this,” she said, weeping. “A parent is not supposed to bury their child … hold them and watch their heart rate dip and eventually hold a baby that is not breathing.”
“The person that murdered him should be in jail forever,” she said.
‘A DISASTER FROM THE BEGINNING’
The case shined a light on the legal requirement for medical professionals and others in child care to report signs of abuse and neglect.
Ethan Henderson had been seen for a broken arm, an injury that Collins-Faunce said happened when the boy’s arm got stuck in his crib as the father lifted the baby out. There was no indication of any referral to the state Department of Health and Human Services.
Marchese, the prosecutor, said the couple was ill-equipped to raise a family, with Collins-Faunce having serious anger issues and no capacity to cope with them.
“This was a disaster from the beginning. These young people should never have had children,” Marchese said. She said she believes that others in the household turned a blind eye to the abuse.
Collins-Faunce told police that he had just come into the house from having a cigarette when his son’s crying made him lose his temper. After squeezing his head and throwing him into the chair, he put the boy in his crib. When the baby screamed horribly, he called 911.
When Ethan arrived at the hospital on May 5, 2012, he was in a coma with severe bleeding around the brain. He also had diaper rash, an unwashed belly button and dirt under his fingernails, doctors said. He was taken off life support three days later.
An autopsy showed that the infant had prior injuries to his ribs and head, which had gone unreported.
QUESTIONS LINGER ON DHHS ROLE
Collins said after the sentencing that when she worked in a hospital, anyone younger than 2 who had a broken arm was admitted for 24 hours for evaluation. The child’s death raised questions about the DHHS’s handling of the case. The department would not comment on any pending case involving the family while the investigation was under way.
Marchese said a caseworker visited the home in the days before Ethan’s death. She said the child’s parents knew of the pending visit and had cleaned up the house.
Marchese did not know what the caseworker found or whether the caseworker was aware of any injuries to the children.
The DHHS visit was the result of an anonymous complaint that the 2-year-old daughter was “covered in bruises” and that the twin boys had illnesses that went untreated.
Just before the child’s death, a child care provider documented bruises on the legs of Ethan and Lucas.
Collins said after the sentencing that the death of her grandson and conviction of her son should show the importance of supporting foster families and making sure that DHHS caseworkers get the training they need and don’t get neglected because of budget cuts.
“We make those decisions every day and there are consequences,” she said.