WOBURN — After insisting for almost three years that her 13-month-old son died of an accident, Christina Hancock pleaded guilty Thursday to involuntary manslaughter, bringing an end to the case and allowing Hancock to avoid prosecution on a charge of first-degree murder.
Hancock was sentenced to eight to 10 years in prison by Middlesex Superior Court Judge Maureen Hogan, agreeing to the sentence recommended by prosecutors.
“This is a sad and tragic crime, a 13-month-old innocent, defenseless boy, Kadyn Hancock, was killed by his own mother,” Hogan said, moments before delivering her sentence.
Under an agreement with Middlesex District Attorney Gerard T. Leone Jr., Hancock pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years behind bars. She was originally charged with first-degree murder, which carries a maximum sentence of life imprisonment without possibility of parole.
Hancock, 26, of Acton, pleaded not guilty in August 2010 to charges that she beat Kadyn to death May 12, 2010.
Prosecutors said Hancock dialed 911 about 4:30 a.m. and said her son had fallen out of the crib and hit his head. The child was taken from Hancock’s home on Great Road and rushed to Emerson Hospital in Concord, where he was pronounced dead at 5:17 a.m., authorities said.
Deborah Bercovitch, assistant Middlesex district attorney, said that when police interviewed Hancock in the hours after Kadyn died, she told them she woke to the sound of a bang and then saw her son lying on his back the floor. She said he was breathing but acting very sleepy so she kept trying to talk with him. She noticed his eyes were rolled back.
She said she splashed water on his face and attempted to feed him Cheerios, but the boy did not chew, prosecutors said.
Bercovitch read a list of injuries Kadyn suffered, including contusions to the stomach, colon, right lung, and liver. The liver injury was described as chronic, or preexisting, suggesting that the boy had suffered a prior injury.
A medical examiner ruled the cause of Kadyn’s death as “blunt force trauma to the torso.’’
Hancock, wearing loose gray sweatpants, a forest-green top, and leg irons, stood and accepted the plea deal Thursday before shuffling to the witness stand. Once on the stand, she answered a series of standard legal questions from Hogan.
When Hogan asked her whether she knew why she was in court, Hancock replied, “for my third child who has passed away.”
During the question-and-
answer session between the judge and defendant, several of Hancock’s relatives sobbed.
Hancock said that when she was 13 or 14 years old, she was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. She said she had symptoms until age 18. She said she graduated from high school and worked as a cashier.
Attorney Stanley Norkunas portrayed his client as a woman whose life has been full of hardship, who came from a broken home and endured a very unstable upbringing.
Hancock was placed in several homes and in foster care, Norkunas said, and was briefly hospitalized at 16 for expressing suicidal thoughts. Hancock also told Bedford police that she had been raped by multiple individuals, but the case never proceeded to a grand jury. In February 2004, she gave birth to her first of four children.
“Because of all the trauma that had gone on in her life, she was having difficulty being able to bond emotionally with her children and she was working very hard attempting to do that,” Norkunas said, paraphrasing statements by therapists who evaluated Hancock.
“Judge, I would indicate that this is a young woman who has had a great deal of difficulty in her own life, appears to have tried very hard to overcome all of those, and in one tragic moment on May 12 of 2010, she was not able to overcome whatever had risen with her,” Norkunas said.
Kadyn’s father, Lamar Woodard, attended the hearing and submitted a written statement to the court, but declined to comment afterward.
Alanna Rizzitano, Hancock’s 29-year-old cousin, said outside the courthouse that she and Hancock were like sisters since Hancock came to live with Rizzitano’s mother. Rizzitano said she still believes Kadyn’s death was an accident.
“She never lost her cool with her children and always disciplined her children in a nonviolent manner,” she said.Brian Ballou can be reached at BBallou@globe.com Follow him on Twitter @GlobeBallou.