Dad will be tried after 20 years

His daughter died two decades after an attack, but those injuries led to her death, officials say.

Published March 16, 2007

NEW PORT RICHEY - Christopher Michael Wells will stand trial in the killing of the daughter he violently shook 20 years ago, a judge ruled Thursday.

Circuit Judge William Webb complimented Assistant Public Defender Michael Tewell's presentation - then rejected his argument that the murder indictment should be quashed because it violates the common law "year and a day" rule.

That rule says a defendant cannot be charged with murder if the victim dies more than a year and a day after infliction of the fatal wound.

Christina Welch was an infant in 1986 when her father shook her, slapped her and covered her mouth to try to stop her crying. Wells pleaded guilty in 1989 to a charge of aggravated child abuse and went to prison for a year.

The defense says the attack occurred two years before the Legislature abolished the "year and a day" rule. Welch was left severely brain-damaged, but lived with her foster mother until her death last year. The medical examiner has said her death was a result of the injuries she suffered as an infant.

The 39-year-old father, stoic throughout the hearing, bowed his head as Webb ruled.

Assistant State Attorney Mike Halkitis argued that a 2001 U.S. Supreme Court decision affirming a Tennessee Supreme Court decision "laid to rest an archaic and outdated rule that had never been used."

The circuit judge did not explain why he made his ruling - and his is likely not the last word. If a jury convicts Wells, the defense can appeal this ruling and other issues to higher courts.