As part of a group of traveling magazine salespeople, Richard Graham was the designated babysitter. He watched over dozens of children, trouble free, as they made their way from one town to another.
But when they stopped at a motel in Buttonwillow last year, a 1-year-old boy left in his care suffered multiple skulls fractures and bleeding on the brain.
Graham, 27, was sentenced Wednesday to two years in prison after pleading no contest to a charge of willful cruelty to a child in what Judge Colette M. Humphrey called one of the more serious cases of child endangerment she has seen.
Graham faced a 12-year sentence if convicted at trial.
Deputy Public Defender Paul Cadman said afterward that Graham accepted the plea agreement because he felt he could not get a fair trial in Kern County.
"After intense meetings with his legal defense team, Mr. Graham chose to forego his prior full umbrage to anything other than dismissal since the people offered him two years at half time on a case with life-changing prison exposure," Cadman said.
"He chose not to roll the Kern County jury panel dice, reasoning that his status as a young African-American male would not grant him a jury of his peers, after learning with incredulity that Kern County only polls potential jurors from DMV and voter registration lists."
Cadman explained that in some counties, such as Los Angeles, public assistance recipients are also polled, meaning large segments of the community who take the bus and choose not to participate in elections "that don't represent them" can be called to serve as jurors.
While Kern County's method of polling jurors is within state law, it effectively eliminates a sizable portion of the population, the attorney said.
Prosecutor Courtney Lewis said there was enough evidence to believe Graham was culpable, but there was some risk taking the case to trial given that another person was in the room with Graham when the child was injured.
She said a two-year prison term was a just outcome.
As for the child, he remains in physical therapy and continues to have issues with his eyesight and an arm.
Arrested July 31, 2016, Graham at first blamed his roommate for the injuries the child suffered, according to court documents. The roommate denied it, and told investigators he witnessed Graham grab the boy by the head and twist the child's head on at least two occasions during the night.
After the roommate passed a polygraph test, Graham admitted to twisting the child's head and shaking him because the boy wasn't listening, court documents said. He also said the child fell and struck his head while left unattended in the shower, and may have fallen two more times while Graham slept.
The boy's mother, Chanti Parker, told investigators she had left her son in the care of Graham, an acquaintance, at a Super 8 Motel in Buttonwillow the day before.
Although Graham admitted to causing the injuries, Cadman said there are a number of ways the child could have been injured. He said the roommate or an 80-pound dog that was in the room could have hurt the boy.
Or, Cadman said, the child could have injured himself while suffering night terrors, described on WebMd as "frequent recurrent episodes of intense crying and fear during sleep," that can make a child thrash around.
Cadman said he had a doctor prepared to testify that night terrors could have caused the injuries.