Nearly five years after the death of Natalynn Miller, a Tulare County judge sentenced defendant Ryann Jones to 25 years to life in prison for assault on the 3-year-old child causing her death.
Natalynn died March 22, 2009 of blunt force trauma to her head and abdomen, prosecutors said.
She was the child of Jones' girlfriend, who had left Natalynn under his care while she was at work. He called 911 to report that the young girl was unconscious.
Troy Miller of Fresno, Natalynn's father, gave an emotional victim's statement at the sentencing Wednesday.
"I loved Natalynn with all my heart," he said. "She asked the most intelligent questions."
At one point, he turned toward Jones and loudly cursed at him, causing Judge Joseph Kalashian to caution him against using profanity.
Miller said that he and the child's mother, Nicole Lee, had broken up. When his visits with his daughter ended and it was time to return Natalynn to her mother and Jones, "she'd tremble in fear at just talking about him," Miller said.
"She lived in terror," he said.
Other relatives also spoke of their heartbreak at Natalynn's death.
In addition to being convicted to assault on a child causing death, Jones was also found guilty by a jury in December of second-degree murder.
Kalashian sentenced him to 15 years to life in prison for that conviction but stayed the sentence so the longer sentence could be imposed. Under the law, the more severe sentence applies when someone is found guilty of two offenses related to the same conduct, Assistant District Attorney Anthony Fultz said.
The judge also ordered him to pay about $12,000 in fees and fines.
Jones showed no emotion as Kalashian read the sentence but pursed his lips tightly as he was being led away by bailiffs.
Jones did not take the stand at his trial, but Kalashian said the evidence showed he was prone to fits of rage.
"What possessed Mr. Jones to have this type of rage, I don't know," the judge said.
Defense attorney Phillip Cherney filed an appeal for a new trial on grounds that the prosecution improperly exploited juror emotions in closing arguments.
About two dozen supporters from Jones' church attended the sentencing. Afterwards, his brother Kenny Jones said in the hallway that Ryann loved Natalynn.
"I've never known Ryann to have a rage like that described by the judge," he said. "I look forward to the appeal."
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