MERCER – A common pleas judge sentenced Paul Alexander Bacorn Tuesday to life in prison plus 20 to 40 years in the October 2019 starving and beating death of 14-year-old Antonio Juan Gonzalez Jr.
The boy's father, Antonio Juan Gonzalez Sr., pleaded guilty April 24, 2020, to first-degree murder and was sentenced to life in prison.
A jury found Bacorn, 30, of Delaware Township, was found guilty of first-degree murder, conspiracy to commit first degree murder, aggravated assault, conspiracy to commit aggravated assault, endangering the welfare of children, conspiracy to commit endangering the welfare of children and tampering with evidence.
Mercer County Common Pleas Court President Judge Robert G. Yeatts told Bacorn that it gave him no joy to issue the sentence because Bacorn contributed to the boy's death when he should have been helping his father to nurture him.
Yeatts said Bacorn's actions the day of Antonio Gonzalez Jr.'s death showed indifference to the boy's life.
"You said, 'I knew when police get involved, dogs get shot,' so you left that day," Yeatts said to Bacorn. "Instead of protecting the child, you wanted to protect your dog. You told the neighbor the dog gets fed before the child gets fed."
Under the advice of his counsel, attorney David Wenger, Bacorn said little at the sentencing hearing.
The defense has already filed a notice of appeal. Wenger said after the hearing that his client still maintains his innocence.
"As the commonwealth witnesses said, there was no direct evidence at any point during the trial that tied my client to the death of this child," Wenger said. "I believe the jury acted emotionally. They saw photos of this child, which is understandable."
Wenger said the evidence pointed to Gonzalez Jr's father as having inflicted injuries on the boy.
"I thought potentially Mr. Bacorn was guilty of endangering the welfare of children," Wenger said. "I think he could have done more, but he didn't do anything to show there was an agreement between these two (Bacorn and Gonzalez Sr.) to cause him to act in any way that caused his death."
Wenger said during the trial that Bacorn provided police with a consistent account of Antonio Gonzalez Jr's death.
The boy died Oct. 24, 2019 of hypovolemic shock. He weighed only 70 pounds when he died. A forensic pathologist testified that internal bleeding from repeated beatings and starvation, used as punishment, was a contributing factor in his death.
Bacorn told police in an interview that on the day of Antonio Gonzalez Jr.'s death, he woke up in the middle of the night as Gonzalez Sr. beat his son. Bacorn said he also saw the father spraying the son with a hose. The boy then tried to get up and fell, hitting his head on a concrete block.
Gonzalez Sr. dragged the boy into the trailer on a tarp and left him lying on the floor. The father then went to Walmart in Greenville. While he was gone for about 90 minutes, Bacorn sat on the bed playing on his phone, and logged the boy onto his cyber school website at 7:50 a.m.
Wenger said Bacorn didn't call for help, and that he should have done more.
Gonzalez Sr. returned home and told Bacorn that "it's not good," referring to his son's well-being or "he's not breathing," Wenger had said during the trial.
Bacorn said he left because he didn't want the 4-year-old to see what was happening, but the prosecution said Bacorn left because he knew he was going to be in trouble.
Before Bacorn left, Gonzalez Sr. gave him a bag that contained weapons – brass knuckles, a broken table and a broken bat – that prosecutors said had been used to beat Antonio Gonzalez Jr. The items, which were entered into evidence, had the boy's DNA on them.
Wenger said Bacorn moved into the Gonzalez home in 2016 because the family needed help around the house and Antonio Gonzalez Sr. needed help watching his children.
Wenger said Bacorn admitted that he had seen Gonzalez Sr. hit the boy and said that the father inflicted extreme punishment on his son. The prosecution said the boy was denied food and his father sometimes punished Antonio Jr. by forcing him to stand for hours with his arms against a wall.
Wenger had said when the family moved to Mercer County in July 2019, Bacorn did not live in the same building as the family and the father beat up his son while Bacorn was sleeping. He said the actions taken against the boy were solely by Gonzalez Sr. and there was no evidence that Bacorn injured the teenager.
During the trial, Assistant District Attorney Jacob Sander said Bacorn implicated himself by his own words.
Sander said Bacorn was Gonzalez Sr.'s accomplice in the boy's abuse and death.
Sander said there were inconsistencies in Bacorn's story in his two interviews with state police. In his first interview, Bacorn said he didn't see Gonzalez Sr. beat his son, Sander said, but later changed his story.
That, Sander said, showed that Bacorn tried to shift the blame from himself into Gonzalez Sr. Finally, Sander said Bacorn did nothing when he was left alone with the dying boy.
Prosecution testimony included a video, taken just four days before Antonio Gonzalez Jr.'s death, that showed Gonzalez Sr. beating the boy. Sander said Bacorn is in the beginning of the video setting up the camera, and can be seen walking in and out of view repeatedly.
Sander said Antonio Jr.'s death was prolonged and suffering and that Bacorn knew about the abuse.
Yeatts said he had to consider the impact of the crime when issuing the sentence.
"Children are our most precious asset," Yeatts said. "There is a great impact."
The total sentence amounts to life without the possibility of parole for the first-degree murder charge, 20 to 40 years for the conspiracy to commit murder charge to be served consecutively, 4 to 10 years for aggravated assault to be served concurrently, 3 to 6 years for endangering the welfare of children to be served concurrently, and no additional sentence for tampering with evidence or the other conspiracy charge.
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