April 18, 2010 in Nation/World

Shaken baby dies at age 19; dad charged

Jailed for abuse in ’89, now for murder
Mitch Stacy Associated Press
Associated Press photo

Christina Welch, shown in 2005, was brain-damaged after her father shook her when she was 2 months old. She died at age 19.
(Full-size photo)

NEW PORT RICHEY, Fla. – Soon after Christina Welch turned 18 in spring 2005, her biological parents asked permission to pay her a visit. Mike and Tina Wells broke down when the bed covers were pulled back and they saw the state of the girl: so severely brain damaged as a baby that she never learned to walk, talk or sit up by herself.

Maureen Welch, the woman who had adopted her, walked into the kitchen to leave the three of them alone, thinking to herself that it was good the couple finally got to see what Mike Wells had done to his infant daughter.

“I didn’t know I hurt her that bad,” he said to Welch when he came into the kitchen. He apologized and told Welch she was a guardian angel sent by God to take care of their Christina.

Mike Wells was 19 when he shook his 2-month-old daughter and covered her mouth to stop her from crying. He and Tina Wells were convicted of aggravated child abuse in 1989, and each served less than a year in prison.

They went on with their lives, having several more children together. They raised their growing family in weathered mobile homes in rural Pasco County northwest of Tampa, and then in central Georgia where Mike Wells worked for a while at a used-tire shop. Neither got in serious trouble again with the law.

And that might have been the end of it – a forever-sorry father having served his time and having to live with what he’d done to his child.

But when Christina died on March 15, 2006, at age 19, a medical examiner ruled the case a homicide: The brain injury her father inflicted almost two decades earlier had caused her death.

The same prosecutor who’d sent Mike Wells away in 1989 came after him again, this time getting a grand jury indictment charging him with murdering his daughter.

Last month, Christopher Michael Wells, now 42, pleaded no contest to second-degree murder and got a 15-year prison sentence.

His wife wasn’t charged in Christina’s death.

Welch, Christina’s adoptive mother who is now 77, raises another disabled child she adopted in the tiny wooden house with purple trim where she loved and doted on Christina until the end. She says Mike Wells got what was coming to him, and admits that sometimes she wants to do to him exactly what he did to the child she lovingly nicknamed “Beanie.”

In the next breath, she’ll lament that a father who might be a different person now than he was 20 years ago is being taken away from his family.

“I don’t know,” she said. “I just want it all to be over.”

Prosecutor Michael Halkitis said charging Wells was an easy decision. Doctors didn’t expect the child to live long after the abuse, and Halkitis’ office was poised to charge him with murder back then. And he said the medical examiner was clear in his assessment that her death, even though it came nearly 20 years after the abuse, was a homicide.

Halkitis acknowledged that Wells had straightened up his life since he got out of prison, but the prosecutor said it didn’t matter. Giving Wells a break never entered his mind.

Halkitis is satisfied with the plea agreement because the terms included Wells waiving the right to appeal.

Wells chose not to risk a trial, where he could have faced a life sentence if convicted of first-degree murder. He declined to be interviewed by the Associated Press before he went to prison.

Welch still cries sometimes when she talks about her Beanie. She and her late husband, Jim, became the child’s foster parents a few months after she was injured and adopted her when she was 5. The couple had six daughters of their own, fostered hundreds of children over the years and adopted four who were disabled.

“I took the kids nobody else wanted,” she said.

© Copyright 2010 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

There are two comments on this story. Click here to view comments >>

Get stories like this in a free daily email