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Whitaker sentenced to 15 years in Jonesborough child abuse case

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WASHINGTON COUNTY, Tenn. - A Jonesborough man sent to prison for 15 years for abusing his adopted baby son. Joe Whitaker was convicted by a jury last month of severely shaking the infant.

Whitaker showed no emotion when the judge read the sentence but both he and his wife, Charlotte, gave tearful testimony in his defense.

In January he was found guilty by a jury of aggravated child abuse after evidence he shook his infant baby so severely, the child suffered retinal damage and a brain hemorrhage.

Charlotte Whitaker took the stand insisting he would never do that.

Some family members wrote letters to the court, vouching for Whitaker and he himself read a statement. He defended himself as a father who has no previous criminal history, said he was suffering from medical issues including diabetes, and has experienced the loss of several close family members.

"It felt important as a dad trying to hold our little family together," Whitaker said reading from his statement. "I was happy to have that seven months together with our infant son."

The judge sentenced him to 15 years in prison, the low end of the sentencing range.

The great-grandmother of one of Whitaker's children, Ruby Russell, said investigators ignored other possible causes of the infant's injuries.

"They convicted this boy from the very day they walked into that house and saw the baby hurt," Russell said. "He was convicted right then and there."

But the judge cited the testimony of four doctors supporting the prosecution's theory.

"Twelve objective jurors listened to the evidence in this case and unanimously found guilt beyond a reasonable doubt," said assistant district attorney Justin Irick.

The defense made a motion for a new trial. A hearing on that motion is set for May.

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