BILLINGS - A Billings man who held a 3-year-old boy by his ankles and let his head hit the floor, causing a fatal injury, was sentenced Tuesday to 30 years in prison.
Thomas Larson, 27, was sentenced by District Judge Ingrid Gustafson for the 2004 death of Ropati "Lupe" Mulipola. He pleaded guilty to deliberate homicide in 2006.
Larson is the second defendant to be sentenced in the case.
The boy's mother, Jessica Thompson, was sentenced in May to 15 years at the Montana Women's Prison, with seven suspended, after pleading guilty to negligent homicide. Prosecutors said she witnessed the incident but waited five hours before getting medical help for her son, despite signs that his condition was worsening.
Larson's wife, Jennifer, also is charged with deliberate homicide in the case and is awaiting trial. Prosecutors said she has cooperated with investigators.
Prosecutors said Lupe was being punished for twisting the arm of the Larsons' child when Thomas Larson spanked him with a spatula, shook him and picked him up by his ankles and lifted him up and down, hitting the boy's head on the floor. Lupe died three days later at a hospital.
Larson's sentencing hearing began May 8 but was delayed by a scheduling conflict and technical problems with a video system. He was returned to court from the Yellowstone County jail on Tuesday to complete the hearing.
Deputy County Attorney Rod Souza asked the judge give Larson 50 years, saying he deserved a lengthy prison term for causing the child's fatal injury.
"This was an unjustified, brutal attack on a defenseless child," Souza said.
Larson spoke briefly, saying he didn't mean to hurt Lupe. He apologized to his family, the child's family and the community.
"I feel like the worst human on the planet, and I deserve whatever punishment your honor sees fit," he said.
Gustafson said it was a difficult case because Larson had no criminal record and didn't appear to have intended to cause the child's death. Jessica Thompson and Jennifer Larson failed to get the child medical attention, which also was a cause of his death, she said.
After considering the "totality of circumstances," Gustafson imposed a 40-year prison term and suspended 10 years. She also ordered Larson to pay $10,000 in restitution.