TRAVERSE CITY — Havona Hawsawi’s grandparents remember their healthy granddaughter coming into the world with 10 pink fingers, tiny toes and an amazing head of hair.
She left it with a fractured skull. And the man blamed for her death said he can’t remember a thing.
Thirteenth Circuit Court Judge Thomas Power went beyond the 19 to 31-year sentencing guidelines Thursday, sending Thomas Gene Weatherholt to prison for at least 35 years for his role in the death of Hawsawi, his ex-girlfriend’s 3-week old daughter.
An intoxicated Weatherholt — he was drunk and admitted to mixing the booze with clonazepam, Xanax, methadone and Zubsolv — argued with his ex-girlfriend Hannah Pence early Sept. 2. He took the sleeping infant outside her parent’s East Bay Township home and returned the unconscious baby who died the next day.
Pence’s parents, Rachel and Clarence, addressed the court and asked Power to send Weatherholt to prison for as long as possible.
“It has been months since Havona was ripped from our lives, but we still feel so much pain,” Rachel Pence said. “We are living a nightmare without an end.”
Havona’s family still does not know how she died. Weatherholt claims to have no recollection from that night. A medical examiner’s report shows a head fracture that led to brain swelling and bleeding.
It also shows Havona suffered a broken collarbone. Power said those findings suggest Weatherholt slammed the girl’s head against a hard surface, possibly concrete.
Power questioned why the girl had to die. Weatherholt picked her up while she was sleeping — the girl wasn’t crying or “fussing” until he picked her up, Power said.
“It really comes down to being a killer,” Power said. “The murder conviction is clearly warranted by the facts.”
Weatherholt’s father, Jon, questioned the facts.
He argued Grand Traverse County Sheriff’s Deputies and prosecutors botched the investigation. Weatherholt’s father also challenged the extensive sentence considering nobody knows exactly how the girl was killed.
“He doesn’t know if he even did it,” he said.
Weatherholt hopes to change his life in prison, starting by furthering his education and seeking substance abuse and mental health treatment, said Cynthia Conlon, his attorney.
He knows he can’t change the fact that the girl is dead, she said.
“You have before you a very young man,” Conlon said of her 22-year-old client. “He admits that he did commit this terrible offense, he does feel great remorse for it.”
Weatherholt wrote a letter for Conlon to read, sharing even more remorse. He didn’t directly comment to the filled courtroom. Several people stood, others sniffled.
“The letter his attorney read today is the first sign there was any remorse from this defendant,” Moeggenberg said.
Havona’s family knew there was something wrong with her when Weatherholt brought her back inside, but he told them “absolutely nothing,” she said.
The Pence’s invited Weatherholt to move in shortly after he began dating their daughter, trusting him to become a member of their family.
Power said that he sentenced him harshly for breaking that trust and robbing the family of a chance to watch Havona grow up.
“That’s the hard thing about a small child passing — we will never know what she would have become,” he said.