Baby Bentley’s father convicted

Becky Vargo • Jul 21, 2015 at 11:57 AM

Justin McIntyre, 23, who was living in Ferrysburg at the time, faces sentencing on Jan. 28.

McIntyre’s sentence will depend on a lot of factors, but a conviction for second-degree child abuse does not require prison time, said his attorney, Joe Legatz.

“It was a stupid, reckless, dangerous act," Legatz said, "and that’s child abuse second degree."

Tuesday's verdict was handed down by Ottawa County Circuit Judge Ed Post following a one-day bench trial in Grand Haven.

Assistant prosecuting attorney Judy Mulder, who was pushing for a first-degree child abuse conviction, said she respected the judge’s decision.

“I’m just happy that Bentley’s doing pretty well right now,” she said.

McIntyre was arrested Aug. 24 after he and other members of the household took 5-week-old Bentley McIntyre to North Ottawa Community Hospital. The child had become unresponsive after a shaking incident at home.

The arrest was made after McIntyre was interviewed on video by Detective Bryan Tiethof of the Grand Haven Department of Public Safety. That video was part of the evidence presented during the trial.

In the video, McIntyre explained how frustrated he was with the child’s crying and how efforts to soothe him were not working. At one point, he took a stuffed toy supplied to him by the detective and demonstrated how he shoved the baby down onto the bed in frustration, hitting the child’s head on a laptop computer.

McIntyre said Bentley started crying harder, so he picked him up and shook him.

In response to questions from Tithof, McIntyre demonstrated how he held the baby without supporting his neck. He said Bentley’s head was flopping back and forth when he shook him.

According to testimony, McIntyre had taken over care of his child when he returned home from work late on Aug. 23. Bentley was sleeping at the time.

The child later woke up, started crying and McIntyre became more frustrated, he told Tithof in the videotaped interview.

A relative in the living room, Richard Zalsman, testified he heard the frustration in McIntyre's voice and was starting to send a text message to Patti VanOmmen, the baby’s maternal grandmother, who was on the second floor of the house. That’s when Zalsman said he heard Justin yell, “Shut the (expletive) up,” and the baby stopped crying.

Zalsman said he rushed upstairs to get VanOmmen, who then discovered that the baby was gasping for air, then not breathing at all. The family rushed the baby to the hospital, where he was stabilized, then airlifted to DeVos Children’s Hospital in Grand Rapids.

Bentley spent almost a month at the hospital, where it was determined he had sub-dural bleeding over the entire surface of his brain, testified Dr. N. Debra Simms, the division chief of the Center for Child Protection at the DeVos Children’s Hospital.

Simms said the bleeding was caused by a “shearing or disruption of vessels from the skull to the brain.” That shearing was caused by a forceful movement, such as shaking or blunt-force trauma to the back of the head.

The doctor said Bentley had bleeding in the upper and lower compartments of his brain, that there was actual swelling of the brain tissue, and that there was brain tissue injury on the frontal lobes.

“The injuries that Bentley had were not consistent with everyday, normal activities,” Simms offered.

Simms said the full effect of the injury might not be known for some time. She said the long-term effects could be learning, development or behavioral problems.

The baby's mother, Kaylee Zalsman, 19, said her son is now doing well. He will likely be on anti-seizure medication for the rest of his life, and it's unknown if he will be able to do something until he reaches that milestone.

Updates on Bentley are posted regularly on a "Prayers for Bentley" Facebook page.

Mulder, who had to prove intent to get a first-degree conviction, said in her closing argument that McIntyre had watched a video at the hospital after Bentley was born, and that educated him about shaken baby syndrome. The prosecuting attorney said McIntyre knew how serious the situation was when he was interviewed because “he drove a baby that wasn’t breathing to the hospital,” she said.

Legatz said McIntyre is a “naïve young man who does not yet know what he has done. That’s not a cover up.”

“He truly has remorse,” Legatz said of his client. “He’s a good kid.”

McIntyre's parents, Tim and Marlene McIntyre, wiped away tears as they watched Tuesday's court proceedings.

“He was a good kid,” Marlene said of her son. “He was on the honor roll.”

Justin McIntyre grew up in Sparta and graduated from Sparta High School in 2007, his mother said. He attended Grand Rapids Community College for a little more than a year, but dropped out when he was offered a full-time job. He was still working full-time at the time of his arrest.

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