Group Home Worker Sentenced
Disabled Boy, 11, Died In Her Care
January 5, 2002
By TINA A. BROWN, Courant Staff Writer
Though Marvika Francis has been convicted of contributing to his 11-year-old son's drowning in a group home, David Hadden told a judge Friday that he didn't want her sent to jail.
"I'm relieved Marvika isn't going to jail," Hadden said. "Our son is gone. He is not coming back."
Hadden also had unsuccessfully tried to persuade Hartford State's Attorney James Thomas not to prosecute Francis, because he didn't want other health care workers who are often "underpaid and unappreciated" to suffer. Hadden said Francis should agree never to work in the health care profession.
Francis, 26, of West Hartford, pleaded guilty in October to risk of injury to a minor that resulted in the death of Samuel Hadden, who was severely disabled. He drowned Nov. 29, 2000, in a bathtub in a group home operated by the Greater Hartford Association of Retarded Citizens in Bloomfield. Francis said she left the bathroom for about 90 seconds to remove the boy's dirty clothes and to get his medicine.
David Hadden and his wife, Sara, of Simsbury, were the driving force behind the establishment in Connecticut of group homes like Samuel's, especially for children with extreme mental and physical handicaps. Two of their three children, Samuel and his older brother Jamie, were born with a severe congenital illness that left them unable to walk, talk or see. Jamie still lives at the home where Samuel died.
At issue Friday was whether Hartford Superior Court Judge Elliot N. Solomon would accept the plea arrangement that would banish Francis from health care and child care work and give her a five-year suspended sentence and five years' probation.
Francis, who did not have a criminal record, wanted a lighter sentence for her mistake, said defense attorney Salvatore Bonanno. "I wished this day would never come," Francis said as she pushed back tears.
Samuel died because Francis engaged in misconduct that caused his death, said Thomas, explaining why he pushed for Francis' conviction. He did not seek jail time and agreed to the five-year suspended sentence.
Bonanno argued for a shorter suspended sentence because his client never intended to hurt the boy and did not have a criminal record. The recommendation to banish Francis from the work she loves would be worse than prison, he said. Before working at the group home, he said, she worked as a special education aide and a day-care worker.
"Marvika feels that she has lost everything," Bonanno said. "That's what she did. She cared for people and took care of people. You have to be a good person to deal with people with these despicable ailments. This was an accident that resulted in a tragedy."
After hearing the arguments, Solomon said, he had no doubt that Francis never intended to hurt the boy. But the law was designed to protect children who can't care for themselves and didn't require that the state prove that she intended to hurt him. "Just as a parent couldn't leave an infant [alone in a tub], you couldn't leave him. You can't turn your back for one moment."
Solomon also didn't believe that prison time was warranted. "You are a solid citizen. You are a person with good intentions," he said told Francis. But she must forfeit her right to be a caregiver because of her negligence, he said, agreeing it was probably a greater punishment than going to prison.
Solomon gave Francis the five-year suspended sentence and five years' probation. He said that she could no longer work in any field that involved nursing, health care or child care and ordered her to provide her federal tax returns to the court annually.
Outside the courtroom, the Haddens gave Francis a bandanna that once belonged to Samuel as a gift. It touched Francis, who walked away and then wailed in pain.
The Haddens also felt her pain. "We feel a sense of anguish to anybody who was directly involved," David Hadden said, with his wife at his side. "This [accident] was a mistake."