A former University of Idaho student reluctantly pleaded guilty Thursday to the October murder of his 3-month-old daughter.
Sighing deeply before he spoke, David C. Pettit, 24, admitted to second-degree murder and possession of a deadly weapon while an inmate.
When asked why, Pettit told Second District Judge John Stegner that the plea agreement reflected his hopes of a lighter sentence than if he’d been convicted of the first-degree murder charges he originally faced.
“It’s largely as a compromise between what the prosecutor feels I’m guilty of and what I feel I’m guilty of,” Pettit said. “I’ve looked it up in some books and the event that took place could be interpreted as second-degree murder.”
Last October, Pettit shook his infant daughter Rebekkah violently enough to cause bleeding in her retinas and swelling of her brain. X-rays and an autopsy revealed she had experienced prior bleeding in the skull. More than a half-dozen broken ribs were in various stages of healing. She had also suffered a broken leg, which led to her placement in foster care for two weeks last August.
In exchange for his plea, the state agreed to a fixed sentence of 15 to 40 years for the murder charge and two to five years for the felony weapons charge.
Latah County Prosecutor William Thompson Jr. said he believed he could have convinced a jury to reach a guilty verdict because the defenseless child was injured so severely and because of testimony from Pettit’s wife. Dawn Pettit said David Pettit had referred to the child as “a parasite” and once told her she was lucky he hadn’t killed the baby yet.
Thompson also called attention to the callousness of leaving the injured baby in its bassinet and then later trying to talk his wife out of taking her to the hospital. “Rebekka had very few caretakers in her short life,” Thompson said, “…and the testimony from all the other caretakers was that they never did anything that could have caused these kinds of injuries.”
On the weapons charge, Thompson said jailers found a sharpened toothbrush in Pettit’s jail bunk and a journal that detailed a plot to escape using the toothbrush as a weapon.
Pettit, who has two other daughters, ages 6 and 7, was two semesters away from finishing his degree in history at the UI.
His sentencing is scheduled for May 18.
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