Man who severely hurt toddler sentenced to prison - East Idaho News
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Man who severely hurt toddler sentenced to prison

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EDITOR’S NOTE: The story contains violent descriptions of child abuse. Reader discretion is advised.

IDAHO FALLS — A man responsible for the “horrific” abuse of a toddler will spend a number of years behind bars.

James Dunkle, 30, was sentenced Wednesday to 30 years in prison and will serve at least eight years before the possibility of release. Dunkle was charged with felony injury to a child and with a felony infliction of great bodily injury enhancement in February after severely hurting his girlfriend’s 18-month-old.

“It doesn’t matter what I do today. The family is going to struggle,” District Judge Bruce Pickett said as he handed down the sentence.

According to an affidavit of probable cause, Dunkle initially told investigators the child fell off the bed before losing consciousness. However, the injuries the toddler sustained told a different story.

During the sentencing hearing, the toddler’s grandfather shared the moments he found the boy lying unresponsive on his mother’s bed. The grandfather said he lived next door to the toddler and had walked past the house moments before the boy’s mother called him to check on the unconscious boy.

“I ran over to try to get inside, only to have the door locked,” the grandfather said. “Once I got inside the house, I went into (the mother’s) bedroom and there was (the boy) laying on his back on (the mother’s) bed. He’s laying on that bed gasping for air, moaning, trying so hard to breathe … (The boy) looked like he was dying.”

The grandfather said after checking the toddler’s pulse, he knew he couldn’t move the boy because “he was hurt so bad.” He recorded it on video as Dunkle called 911 to report the unconscious child. When first responders arrived, they rushed him to Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center.

The toddler’s father also spoke during the hearing.

“The day I got the call I needed to rush to the hospital because our son was severely abused by a monster and is fighting for his life, was the hardest and scariest day of my life,” he said.

Upon discovering the possibility of a skull fracture, bleeding on the brain and other life-threatening injuries, doctors recommended the toddler be flown by medical helicopter to Primary Children’s Hospital in Salt Lake City.

The toddler’s grandfather said while at Primary Children’s, doctors determined the boy had a fractured spine, brain injuries, collapsed lung and fractures to his limbs. He said the boy continues therapy as he struggles to use the left side of his body, eat with a spoon and brush his teeth – all things he could do before the abuse. Doctors do not expect the toddler to recover 100 percent.

According to court documents, during an interview with police, Dunkle was babysitting when the boy vomited, and he went to give the child a bath when he became “frustrated,” and had a breakdown. He swatted the toddler on the buttocks — and then things escalated.

Deputy County Prosecuting Attorney Alex Muir said Dunkle purposefully dropped the boy on his head, shook the toddler’s head against the floor and threw him across a bed into a dresser until he fell onto the floor.

The toddler is plagued by seizures and pain-inflicting migraines, both lasting effects of the head injuries sustained at Dunkle’s hands, family members told the court.

“In this situation, it probably would be inappropriate to offer a lot of mitigation on behalf of James other than to say … how contrite he feels,” defense attorney Neal Randall said. “No matter what I’m going to say isn’t going to help the family, especially in a situation where a child is so hurt and so profoundly impacted.”

Muir said the case warrants a “swift and heavy” prison sentence, ensuring the protection and youth of the community.

“A sentence less than imprisonment would depreciate the seriousness of this crime,” Muir said.

Muir recommended the maximum sentence for this case of 30 years with eight of those fixed and 22 indeterminate. Additionally, he told Pickett the state will file for restitution in the case to help cover the extensive medical bills accrued upon the family. The grandfather said these bills have been forcing them to consider filing for bankruptcy.

“I’m truly apologetic for my actions,” Dunkle said in a statement to the court. “Not because of where I am, but for the pain and suffering I caused the family, relatives and caring friends.”

He said while being locked up in the Bonneville Jail, he read a book to help him study and understand the consequences of his actions. He said he is ready to take those consequences and continues praying to understand the deeper issues his violent actions caused.

“I don’t deserve forgiveness,” Dunkle said. “But I do pray that we can all in time heal from this.”

Little is publicly known as to why Dunkle purposely abused the toddler; however, Pickett shared aspects of the pre-sentence investigation before handing down his sentence.

“You went to say in your own statement that you quit caring about everything because you wanted to be with your own children, and it was not the same being with (the toddler),” Pickett said.

Dunkle had recently gone through a divorce before he hurt the toddler. Pickett also said Dunkle struggles with many psychological issues and has his own experience being abused himself.

“I recognize that the eight years in no way serves as justice for the victim because there isn’t justice in this case for the victim,” Pickett said. “There’s nothing the court can do.”