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Punishment light in injury case

By Bob Buckel | Published Saturday, June 7, 2014

It was a short trial and a short sentence this week in the 271st Judicial District Court in Decatur.

After finding Shaun Ray Mullinax, 33, guilty of injury to a child, a Wise County jury quickly gave him the lightest possible sentence Wednesday afternoon – two years in prison.

Testimony began around 1:30 Tuesday afternoon and concluded by about 4:30. After final arguments Wednesday morning, the jury deliberated through lunch and came back into the courtroom just after 1 p.m.

The six-woman, six-man jury found that Mullinax did indeed hit his then-12-year-old son on Nov. 7, 2012 at their home in a Rhome subdivision.

The jury then went back out to consider punishment, deliberating for less than 15 minutes before returning to the courtroom.

The punishment range for the third-degree felony was enhanced – from 2-10 years to 2-20 years – because Mullinax had a previous felony conviction. In 2005, he spent seven months in prison for arson after torching his vehicle in Smith County.

Because of the prior conviction, probation was not an option.

Assistant District Attorney Jay Lapham, who prosecuted the case, said he had no quarrel with the jury’s decision.

“This case was more about the guilt than it was about the punishment,” he said. “To take the appropriate action of holding the defendant accountable was much more important.”

MOST FACTS NOT DISPUTED

According to witness accounts, Mullinax had picked his son up at football practice that day and taken him home, with instructions to do his homework and clean up the dishes. He then went to Denton for the evening.

His son reportedly called him and told him the homework and chores were done and was given permission to go to a friend’s house and play video games.

But when Mullinax got home, those things were not done. When his son came home, he confronted him and, he said, attempted to turn him around for a spanking.

The jury, however, believed the boy’s statement that his dad had hit him with a closed fist, repeatedly on the arm and at least once on the head. The prosecution’s evidence included several photographs of bruises on the boy’s arm.

“If this was just a spanking, we wouldn’t be here,” Lapham told the jury before the punishment phase. “This is a grown man taking his fist and hitting his son multiple times.”

The next day, the boy went to his counselor at Chisholm Trail Middle School and told him about the incident. Child Protective Services was called, and the boy called his mother from school. She drove up that day from Floresville, south of San Antonio, and took him to her home, where he continues to live.

Mullinax did go to Floresville sometime after that with a court order to get his son back. But when law enforcement was called and became concerned that the boy appeared to be afraid of his father, he returned home and made no further attempt to contact his son.

The boy did call his father, however – and that recorded conversation was used by the prosecution as an admission of guilt. Lapham encouraged the jury to take the audio CD into the jury room and listen to it again.

“The defendant is saying he’s sorry for what he did, not sorry because [his mom] came up here to Wise County and took her son back to Floresville,” he said.

Attorney Jerry Cobb, who represented Mullinax, asked the jury to consider whether Mullinax’s punishment of his son was “reasonable” according to the law.

“There’s no question he tried to discipline him, and the child resisted, and at some point, he stopped,” Cobb said, pointing out that his client had also tried grounding the boy, taking away privileges and sending him to his room.

He also noted that although the boy told the jury he feared his father, he had never told anyone prior to the Nov. 7, 2012, incident.

Lapham said the jury should believe the boy’s story and the evidence.

“Do you believe a convicted felon who’s got a lot to lose? Or do you believe [the boy]?

“Do you know how much courage it took for him to come up here and face his dad?” Lapham asked. “We tell kids to tell an adult, tell someone, cry out. Then we’re not going to believe them?”

Lapham asked for a five-year sentence to allow the boy to graduate from high school with “peace of mind.” Cobb asked for two years.

Afterward Cobb, a former Denton County district attorney, said the punishment fit the crime.

“You never know when you have two witnesses saying different things,” he said. “I explained to my client that if the jury believes his son, he’s going to get convicted, and if they don’t, he won’t be convicted.

“I think the punishment is appropriate for this type of offense, based on his history and based on what happened,” he added. “I respect the jury’s opinion.”

No word yet on whether Mullinax will appeal the verdict.

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