There’s a nearly 50-year difference in the sentencing recommendations for Jonathan Lytle, the father convicted last November of homicide by abuse in the torture death of his daughter, 4-year old Summer Phelps.
The Spokane County prosecutor’s office is asking for an exceptional sentence of 75 years for Lytle, 30, while Lytle’s lawyers say the sentence shouldn’t exceed 26 1/2 years, the high end of the sentencing range for homicide by abuse for someone like Lytle with no prior criminal record.
Lytle will be sentenced Thursday at 9 a.m. by Spokane County Superior Court Judge Michael P. Price.
The prosecutors are also asking for a 75-year sentence for Lytle’s wife, Adriana – Summer’s stepmother – because of her “deliberate cruelty” and active role in Summer’s death. She pleaded guilty last year to homicide by abuse and will be sentenced separately by Price on Friday.
Court memoranda filed over the past few weeks outline the thinking of the lawyers in the high-profile child abuse case.
The jury that convicted Jonathan Lytle agreed that there were “aggravating circumstances” in Summer’s death – including deliberate cruelty to a vulnerable small child by an adult in a position of trust. That verdict cleared the way for the prosecutor’s exceptional sentence request.
Over six months in 2006 and 2007, Summer was beaten, bitten, shocked with a dog collar, burned with cigarettes, denied food and dunked in water after being forced to wash urine-soaked clothes for hours in a large bathtub. Her long red hair was pulled out in clumps. She died on March 10, 2007, submerged in the family bathtub.
“The ER physician and charge nurse, both with extensive experience, consider it the worst case of child abuse they ever saw,” says Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Jack Driscoll in his sentencing memorandum. “If ever a case cries out for the most severe punishment, it is this one.”
In their memorandum, Edward Carroll and Dennis Dressler, Lytle’s court-appointed lawyers from Spokane County Counsel for Defense, agree that Lytle’s crime was “heinous.” But they point out that Lytle has no criminal history, and that homicide by abuse carries a standard sentencing range of 20 to 26 1/2 years for someone with no prior convictions.
Because the offense doesn’t carry life imprisonment without possibility of parole, the court must sentence Lytle to a “finite number of months,” and he will be eligible for earned release time of 10 percent of his sentence, they say.
Under the prosecutor’s request, Lytle wouldn’t be eligible for parole until he was 95, the lawyers say.
“In effect, then, 900 months would be a sentence of life without possibility of parole,” according to their memorandum.
The Spokane community has been “shocked and outraged by this case, and the outpouring of sympathy for Summer Phelps has been almost unprecedented,” the lawyers note. They asked the judge to balance society’s demands for justice with the requirements of state sentencing law.
In their review of other exceptional sentences in homicide by abuse cases since the law was enacted in 1987, the lawyers note the maximum sentence imposed was 53 years, not 75. “The sentence sought by the state is clearly not proportional,” they concluded.
If the sentence his lawyers are requesting were imposed, Lytle would be eligible for release when he is 52.