St. Petersburg Times Online: Pasco County news
TampaBay.com
Place an Ad Calendars Classified Forums Sports Weather
tampabay.com

printer version

Father acquitted of abusing son

The Hudson man had been accused of breaking his son's leg in January 1999, when the boy was 3 years old.

By CARY DAVIS

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 9, 2001


NEW PORT RICHEY -- Arrested in 1999 on charges that he had broken his 3-year-old son's leg in a rage, Michael Mendenhall feared that he would lose his family and his freedom.

But Mendenhall's wife stood by him, even after the state Department of Children and Families ordered him to find another place to live for a year.

On Thursday, to the astonishment of prosecutors, Mendenhall was acquitted of aggravated child abuse, a felony that carries a sentence of up to 15 years in prison.

"I've maintained my innocence the entire time," a red-eyed Mendenhall, 26, said after the verdict. "Now I stand here an innocent man."

Mendenhall and his son, Elijah, were alone in the family's Hudson home on Jan. 9, 1999, when the boy's leg was broken.

Mendenhall told investigators at the time that he was "disappointed and frustrated" with Elijah because the boy had soiled his pants. "I scolded the child, but I did not strike him," Mendenhall told Pasco County Sheriff's Office investigators.

Mendenhall testified at the trial that the injury most likely happened when he was pulling off his son's soiled pants. The pants got caught around Elijah's ankles and could have bent the boy's leg to the breaking point, Mendenhall said.

To support Mendenhall's claim, the defense suggested that Elijah suffers from a congenital disease that renders his bones brittle. Mendenhall "didn't do anything wrong," defense attorney Peter Wansboro told jurors Thursday. "It was the action of a caring father."

Prosecutors said Mendenhall's account of the incident failed to explain how the boy broke his femur, the strongest bone in the human body, and not his ankle. They suggested that the injury, given the large bruise on the boy's thigh, was more likely the result of a violent blow from Mendenhall.

After the four-day trial, jurors took just more than two hours to reach the not-guilty verdict. They declined to discuss their decision with a Times reporter as they left the courthouse.

"It's easily the most unbelievable verdict I've had as a prosecutor," said Assistant State Attorney Tom Stathopoulos.

Mendenhall, who works as a tile installer and has completed state-ordered anger management counseling, returned to live with his wife, Leah, and Elijah a year ago and no longer is under the supervision of child welfare workers.

"We are still a family," Mendenhall said.

- Cary Davis covers courts in west Pasco County. He can be reached in west Pasco at 869-6236 or (800) 333-7505, ext. 6236. His e-mail address is cbdavis@sptimes.com.

Back to Pasco County news

Back to Top

© 2006 • All Rights Reserved • Tampa Bay Times
490 First Avenue South • St. Petersburg, FL 33701 • 727-893-8111
 


From today's
Pasco Times
  • Patient's attack hurts paramedics
  • Memo spells out new policies to fight drugs
  • Father acquitted of abusing son
  • Conserve water or pay more
  • Port Richey council votes to put its pay hike on ballot
  • Delays in SR 54 project need to end -- ASAP
  • Building beach at park is unsound environmentally
  • For teens, this test was a natural
  • Cobras to attack with athletes
  • If Boyko's having fun, Cobras are dangerous
  • 3 Pasco men accused of abusing minors
  • Art lovers reunited with new show
  • Steppin out
  • Ticket-buyers say 'hello'' to crowd-pleasing musical
  • Businessman decides to join council race
  • Artists awarded for recycling
  • Raid on home results in four drug arrests
  • Tourist group keeps PR firm
  • Healthy Gators hunger for elusive state championship
  • The timing is right for Hinkle, Black
  • Dwyer doesn't lack ambition

  •