May 27, 2018
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Man who scalded stepdaughter will spend 7 years in prison

Heather Steeves | BDN
Heather Steeves | BDN
Christopher Riley, 31, appears in court in August to face assault charges for allegedly scalding his 3-year-old stepdaughter.
By Abigail Curtis and Heather Steeves, BDN Staff

ROCKLAND, Maine — A man who pleaded guilty to scalding a toddler and inflicting what the judge called “horrific injuries” on her was sentenced Tuesday at Knox County Superior Court to serve a prison term of seven years.

Christopher Riley, 31, of Searsport was sentenced to nine years with two years suspended, according to Waldo County Deputy District Attorney Eric Walker.

Riley had pleaded guilty to charges of aggravated assault, assault on a child and trafficking in oxycodone. He also will spend three years on probation, according to Walker, and will not be allowed contact with the victim or unsupervised contact with children under the age of 18 along with other special conditions.

Walker said Wednesday that the victim’s family is “pretty happy” with the court’s final sentence.

“We were able to avoid having a trial with all the stress and strain that a trial would have put the victim and her family through,” he wrote in an email.

In August, Superior Court Justice Jeffrey Hjelm rejected as too lenient a plea bargain that Riley’s attorney, Thomas Shehan of Belfast, had made with the District Attorney’s Office. The attorneys had agreed that if Riley pleaded guilty to aggravated assault and assault on a child, his sentence would be limited to three years.

“This is a major crime,” Hjelm told the attorneys this summer. “If Mr. Riley committed this crime, the full weight of the law should be approached.”

The crime in question happened in 2009, when Riley ran a hot bath for his 3-year-old stepdaughter at their Searsport home. When the girl yelled “ouch ouch ouch” he put his hand over her mouth to keep her quiet. He then kept her sitting in the scalding tub while he shampooed her hair and left her there while he went outside to smoke pot, Walker said in court this August.

Riley eventually took the girl out of the tub and put clothes on her. When her mother came in and saw that the pants were wet, she pulled them off. The 3-year-old’s skin peeled off with the pants, according to the deputy district attorney. She suffered third-degree burns over 20 percent of her body and stayed at a Boston hospital’s burn unit for months.

The girl will be scarred for life, Walker said, and will need skin grafts for the next 16 years.

“There is nothing that can be done to right this wrong, and the victim unfortunately will have to live with the scars of this abuse for many years to come, and that is terrible,” he wrote Wednesday. “In the end, justice, as best we can do it, was done here.”

Efforts on Wednesday to reach Riley’s defense attorney were unsuccessful.

Hjelm said this summer that Riley has shown “no empathy” for the child and that he knew the hot water heater was defective, sputtering 150-degree water into the bath.

The girl’s grandmother addressed the court this summer, asking if the justice had ever seen a child so hurt, that it was impossible to give them a hug to make them feel better.

“To see a child in so much pain tore me up inside,” she said.

Neither the victim nor the grandmother have been named by the BDN. Waldo County victim witness advocate Happy Kearns said Wednesday that the girl is living in a good place now with a lot of family support.

According to Walker, all of the child’s medical bills are being paid by the Shriners, which he called an “amazing group of people.” Because of that, Riley is not being commanded to pay restitution for the assault charges.

But the court did impose special probation conditions on him, Walker said. Those include no use or possession of alcohol or illegal drugs; random searches and testing for alcohol and illegal drugs; substance abuse, anger management and psychological counseling and participation in vocational rehabilitation service.

Riley will have to pay a $400 fine on the trafficking charge.

Correction: An earlier version of this story said Christopher Riley would serve four years of probation. Riley will serve three years of probation.

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