NEW PORT RICHEY, Fla. – Soon after Christina Welch turned 18 in the spring of 2005, her biological parents asked permission to pay her a visit. Mike and Tina Wells broke down when the bed covers were pulled back and they saw the state of the girl: so severely brain damaged as a baby that she never learned to walk, talk or sit up by herself.

Maureen Welch, the woman who had adopted her, walked into the kitchen to leave the three of them alone, thinking to herself that it was good the couple finally got to see what Mike Wells had done to his infant daughter.

“I didn’t know I hurt her that bad,” he said to Welch when he came into the kitchen. He apologized and told Welch she was a guardian angel sent by God to take care of their Christina.

Mike Wells was 19 when he shook his 2-month-old daughter and covered her mouth to stop her from crying. He and Tina Wells were convicted of aggravated child abuse in 1989, and each served less than a year in prison.

They went on with their lives, having several more children together. They raised their growing family in weathered mobile homes in rural Pasco County northwest of Tampa, and then in central Georgia where Mike Wells worked for a while at a used-tire shop. Neither got in serious trouble again with the law.

And that might have been the end of it — a forever-sorry father having served his time and having to live with what he’d done to his child.

But when Christina died on March 15, 2006, at age 19, a medical examiner ruled the case a homicide: The brain injury her father inflicted almost two decades earlier had caused her death.

The same prosecutor who’d sent Mike Wells away in 1989 came after him again, this time getting a grand jury indictment charging him with murdering his daughter.

Last month, Christopher Michael Wells, now 42, pleaded no contest to second-degree murder and got a 15-year prison sentence.

His wife, who wasn’t charged in Christina’s death, still stays with her mother and children in a trailer in Monticello, Ga., with a yard strewn with toys and household items and secured by four barking dogs.

Welch, Christina’s adoptive mother who is now 77, raises another disabled child she adopted in the tiny wooden house where she loved and doted on Christina until the end. She says Mike Wells got what was coming to him, and admits that sometimes she wants to do to him exactly what he did to the child she lovingly nicknamed “Beanie.”

In the next breath, she’ll lament that a father who might be a different person now than he was 20 years ago is being taken away from his family. “I don’t know,” she said. “I just want it all to be over.”

Prosecutor Michael Halkitis said charging Wells was an easy decision. Doctors didn’t expect the child to live long after the abuse, and Halkitis’ office was poised to charge him with murder then. And he said the medical examiner was clear in his assessment that her death, even though it came nearly 20 years after the abuse, was a homicide.

Halkitis acknowledged that Wells had straightened up his life since he got out of prison, but the prosecutor said it didn’t matter. Giving Wells a break never entered his mind.

Halkitis is satisfied with the plea agreement because the terms included Wells waiving the right to appeal. He said defense attorneys had raised legitimate issues that could have tied up the case in appellate courts for years and even gotten it overturned. That won’t happen now. Defense challenges had already dragged the case out for more than three years.

Mike and Tina Wells initially took a plea deal and were sentenced to prison for unspecified acts of child abuse against Christina, Halkitis said. Since the infant suffered other injuries — broken ribs, a broken clavicle and a bruise on the head — the prosecutor said he was able to home in on the shaking and covering of the child’s mouth as separate, specific acts that caused Christine’s brain damage and eventual death.

The judge consistently agreed with Halkitis, rejecting the defense’s double-jeopardy arguments and the claim that Wells couldn’t be charged with murder because the death occurred more than a year and a day after the offense, as per old English common law.

In the end, Wells chose not to risk a trial, where he could have faced a life sentence if convicted of first-degree murder. He declined to be interviewed by The Associated Press before he went to prison, and his defense attorneys did not return numerous calls.

Halkitis said his case was strong: Several noted specialists roundly agreed with the medical examiner that it was Wells’ abuse that led directly to Christina’s death, even though she had myriad other health problems.

And one of the star trial witnesses would have been the plainspoken Welch, who would have talked about how she turned Christina in bed every three hours, lifted her into a wheelchair for frequent outings and sat up with her as she wailed in pain the night before her death.

“It had a lot of jury appeal,” the prosecutor said.

None of that matters much to Welch, who still cries sometimes when she talks about her Beanie. She and her late husband, Jim, became the child’s foster parents a few months after she was injured and adopted her when she was 5. The couple had six daughters of their own, fostered hundreds of children over the years and adopted four who were disabled.

“I took the kids nobody else wanted,” she said.

After her husband died 15 years ago, the diminutive woman lifted and carried Christina from the bed by herself before the state paid for a mechanical device with slings that made it easier. The track of the machine still snakes from room to room along the ceiling of the aging wooden house.

Pictures of Christina remain everywhere.


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.