Man gets 6 to 15 years in neglect case

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A Carson City man was sentenced Monday to up to 15 years in prison for neglecting to call 911 when he found his 4-year-old stepdaughter not breathing last year.

By all accounts, Rochelle Ellis will never recover from what happened to her on Sept. 27, 2010, while in the care of her stepfather, Justin Carrigan.

A jury found in September that there was not enough evidence to find Carrigan guilty of causing Rochelle to stop breathing, but they did find that Carrigan was neglectful in not quickly rendering aid as she lay dying in the family living room.

It wasn't until a neighbor insisted Carrigan call 911 - after he initially refused, saying he had spanked her the previous evening - that Carrigan finally summoned rescuers.

By then, Rochelle had been without oxygen for an estimated 6 minutes. It took paramedics several more minutes to arrive and get her heart started again, but the damage was done.

Carrigan's friends came to his defense Monday, calling him, a "supportive, instructive, attentive, reliable" father.

The mother of a friend, Cat Melino, said the year Carrigan has already spent in jail is punishment enough for a "mistake" of judgment.

"I truly believe he is one of the best human being on the face of the earth," she said.

Defense attorney Ben Walker asked for probation for Carrigan, noting that doctors couldn't determine whether Rochelle's brain damage occurred during the 6 minutes it took Carrigan to call 911, or during the time that lapsed after that.

"He's the one that saved (Rochelle's) life by getting help for her," said Walker. "His background really shows that he's a good candidate for probation. If this were any other type of crime, somebody with his lack of criminal history would probably get probation."

But Assistant District Attorney Gerald Gardner was of a different opinion.

"The defendant did not do his duty as a parent. He turned his back on that little girl and abandoned her, and she is devastated," said Gardner. "This has everything to do with what Justin Carrigan did - and failed to do - on that day. ... We have a once perfectly vibrant child who is now reduced to not being able to talk, who can barely walk, who will never read, who will never be able to speak ... (who) will not do any of the things that she was destined to do if this had not happened."

Just before sentencing, Carrigan spoke briefly.

"I wish I could go back and do everything again," he said, his voice choked with emotion. "I love my family dearly and would do anything for them."

Judge Todd Russell sentenced Carrigan to just a few months less than suggested by Parole and Probation. He is eligible for probation after six years.

"We'll never know exactly what happened to the victim on that day, but what we do know is that Mr. Carrigan failed to properly care for this child. He made a conscious decision to disregard the welfare of this child," said Russell. "It seems to this court that you chose to protect yourself rather than the young child in your care. Your stories kept changing. ... It is clear something happened, but we'll never know. But we do know that you did not take the right actions."


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