A Hephzibah man who described the beating death of his son as a tragic accident received a 10-year prison sentence Friday.
John Henry Lockhart Sr., 40, was originally charged with murder for the May 11 death of his 16-year-old son, John Henry Lockhart Jr. The teen-ager had suffered welts, bruises and abrasions from head to heel during a period of years, according to the autopsy report.
But the actual cause of the boy's death was a rare spleen disorder, Assistant District Attorney Hugh Hadden said Friday in explaining his reasoning for allowing Mr. Lockhart to plead guilty to the lesser charge of involuntary manslaughter.
Because of the medical disorder, when the boy was beaten, fat cells below the skin were broken up and released into the bloodstream, and they lodged in his lungs, causing him to asphyxiate, Mr. Hadden said.
On May 11, Mr. Lockhart beat his son for a 10- to 15-minute period with a thin wire and belt, leaving more than 100 marks on the boy's back, Mr. Hadden said.
While Mr. Lockhart contends he was trying to discipline the teen-ager, "no reasonable person could call it discipline," Mr. Hadden said.
Defense attorney Paul David asked Judge Albert M. Pickett to consider probation for Mr. Lockhart, a Pentecostal minister and retired Army sergeant who had never been in trouble before. Two supervisors and a co-worker of Mr. Lockhart's spoke on his behalf also.
Both attorneys noted that Mr. Lockhart had spent long periods of time away from home and that the teen-ager had been living in Macon with a minister for two years before being returned to his parents in Hephzibah last year.
"I would do anything to have him back," said Mr. Lockhart, who said the death of his only son was a tragic accident. "I have to live with this for the rest of my life."
Judge Pickett sentenced Mr. Lockhart to the maximum possible sentence, 10 years in prison.