Local News

July 20, 2010

Man pleads guilty in child’s death

Authorities: High on drugs and alcohol

A Carbondale man who authorities say was high on drugs and alcohol when he killed his infant daughter in August of last year pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter in Whitfield County Superior Court on Tuesday and was sentenced to 18 years in prison.

Nathaniel Roderick Hester, 30, of 541 Country Lane, was originally charged by the Whitfield County Sheriff’s Office with felony murder and cruelty to children in the beating death of his 5-week-old daughter, Piper Hayden Hester.

District Attorney Kermit McManus said a plea agreement was reached that allowed Hester not to face the felony murder charge if he pleaded to the lesser charge. Judge Cindy Morris sentenced Hester to 18 years in prison and two years on probation.

“We had a negotiated plea between us and the defendant’s lawyer, Chris Townley from Ringgold,” McManus said. “(Hester) entered a guilty plea to an accusation we filed charging him with voluntary manslaughter. (That charge) has a maximum penalty of 20 years. The first 18 years will be served in confinement.”

Assistant District Attorney Bert Poston prosecuted the case, and told Morris that Hester had ingested cocaine, methamphetamine, marijuana and alcohol — vodka specifically — in “large amounts.”

An arrest warrant said that Hester “caused blunt force injury to the head and torso which resulted in the death of the child.” Coroner Bobbie Dixon called the case the worst example of child abuse she had seen.

Capt. Rick Swiney with the sheriff’s office said after the arrest that Kristen Hester, Piper’s mother, was at the house on Country Lane the Saturday evening when the events occurred, awaking after midnight to find the infant was not in her crib. He said she tried CPR after finding the child. A Whitfield 911 recording detailed Kristen Hester crying, trying to administer CPR and screaming at her husband.

Nathaniel Hester appeared solemn in court, and at one point shook his head as Poston told Morris the specifics of the case against him.

Terri Lynn Orr is Kristen Hester’s aunt, and said Piper’s death has “crushed their family as we’ve struggled with the circumstances of her death.”

“Nothing can bring her back, take away our pain and sense of loss, or undo what happened,” she said. “But today’s sentencing brought some closure and some sense of satisfaction as we finally heard Nathan Hester take responsibility in court for the death of his daughter. Knowing he will serve real time for this crime affords us a measure of relief ... we are appreciative of the efforts of the law enforcement community and the district attorney’s office as they have investigated ... (and) we are thankful for the support and love shown to us by our friends, coworkers, neighbors and the community.”

Townley said the death was “just a terrible tragic situation.”

“It’s one that we’ll never know the answer to in all of the details,” he said. “Mr. Hester will never know. Under the circumstances I don’t think anyone can say specifically what the perfect result (in the sentencing) is because we’ll never know the true facts.”

Townley was asked if that was because of Hester’s physical and mental condition that night.

“As far as him not knowing what occurred? Yes,” he replied. “I don’t think there’s anybody that was part of the investigation who feels that he was withholding information. He just didn’t have the information (because he was intoxicated).”

Holly Ridley with the Family Support Council followed the case as an advocate for children.

“An 18-year sentence doesn’t atone for the loss of little Piper,” she said. “Sadly, nothing can. There is help in our community for people who can’t cope with their stress and with the demands of parenthood. If a parent feels overwhelmed with their responsibilities, they can call (the Department of Family and Children Services) at (706) 272-2331 or Family Support Council at (706) 272-7919 for help. No one wants to hurt their child — they need to seek assistance before they reach that point. Not doing so destroys lives.”


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