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A Brewer father accused of causing his son’s death was handed a “happy, cooing baby” on Monday and 15 minutes later the 6-week-old boy was unresponsive and his parents were calling 911, a prosecutor told a judge Friday when the man made his first court appearance.
Assistant Attorney General Leanne Robbin told Superior Court Justice William Anderson that the baby, who was not named in court, died from being shaken violently. She also said that the infant’s mother saw what happened to the baby while in his father’s care.
Harding, who has no criminal history, was not asked to enter a plea to the charge because he has not yet been indicted by the Penobscot County grand jury.
A trial is not expected to be held before next year due to the tremendous backlog of criminal cases stemming from the curtailment of court activities during the pandemic.
Harding called 911 on Memorial Day to report that his infant was unresponsive and not breathing, according to Maine State Police. The boy was taken to Northern Light Eastern Maine Medical Center in critical condition and was pronounced dead on Tuesday.
Maine State Police arrested Harding on Thursday.
Anderson on Friday set bail at $3,000 cash and ordered that Harding have no contact with his wife or children under the age of 12. Three older children, who are not Harding’s, are with relatives in northern Maine, Robbin said.
Conditions under Harding’s contract with Maine Pretrial Services also include not possessing dangerous weapons and a curfew from 7 p.m. to 6 a.m. unless he must be gone overnight for work.
Robbin asked that bail be set at $10,000 cash but defense attorney Will Ashe of Bangor said his client could post $500 cash. He opposed preventing Harding from having contact with his wife.
“Both parents are bereaved,” he told Anderson. “They are not placing blame.”
He also said that Harding’s wife “did not witness” anything so the no contact order was not necessary to keep the defendant from influencing a witness.
Robbin said the Harding case was similar to the Jessee Mackin case, which she prosecuted, that was adjudicated in 2019. Mackin, 38, was found guilty of manslaughter in the death of his girlfriend’s 6-month-old son on May 7, 2015.
Mackin denied harming the child but he was alone with the baby when he became unresponsive. Robbin said the Harding child’s injuries were similar to those inflicted on the baby in the Mackin case.
Mackin was sentenced to 11 years in prison with all but 5½ suspended, followed by four years of probation. He is incarcerated at Mountain View Correctional Facility in Charleston. His earliest release date is March 2024, according to the Maine Department of Corrections.
If convicted, Harding faces up to 30 years in prison and a fine of up to $50,000 for manslaughter.
Correction: This article has been corrected to note that Harding is not the father of three older children who are with relatives in northern Maine.