WOBURN — Sitting on her mother’s lap in Middlesex Superior Court, 2-year-old Zoie Armstrong sang Itsy Bitsy Spider and Old MacDonald, oblivious that the man who shook her so badly she was left blind and paralyzed was sitting a mere 20 feet away.
“It’s a blessing that she was only 10 months old when this happened,” said Geri Armstrong, Zoie’s grandmother. “I don’t think she’ll remember this.”
In court May 22, Middlesex Superior Court Judge Raymond Brassard sentenced Bertram Dean-Lopez, 30, of Shirley, to a 10-year state prison sentence, describing the harm done to baby Zoie as “unthinkable.”
Dean-Lopez was accused of shaking Zoie Armstrong so violently in a fit of rage that Zoie is now legally blind and paralyzed on one side due to brain damage.
After a week-long trial and more than two days of deliberations, a jury found Dean-Lopez, the former boyfriend of Zoie’s mother, Jean Armstrong, guilty of assault and battery on a child with substantial bodily injury — brain damage.
The incident took place Aug. 23, 2006, in an Ayer apartment where the couple then lived. Dean-Lopez is not the baby’s father.
Dean-Lopez was cleared of a lesser charge of assault and battery on a child causing injury — a broken femur.
Attorney Robert Normandin, who represented Dean-Lopez, said he is “surprised” by the sentence, which exceeds the minimum five years listed under the sentencing guidelines.
While the prosecutor asked for a sentence of 14 to 15 years, noting the seriousness of Zoie’s injuries and asking the judge to “show no mercy,” Normandin recommended a three-year state prison sentence. He said he had glowing character references from people who said Dean-Lopez never exhibited any violent tendencies.
Dean-Lopez, who had no prior criminal record, will appeal the conviction and sentence, said Normandin.
In his statement, read by Normandin, Dean-Lopez wrote, “I am terribly sorry for all the pain and sorrow I caused baby Zoie and the Armstrong family. Each day I live with the shame, and I will never forgive myself.”
Jean and Geri said they are pleased with the sentence.
In her victim-impact statement, Jean told the judge that on Aug. 23, 2006, “I lost all my hopes and dreams for my daughter and watched her fight for her life.”
Zoie was hospitalized for months. At one point, the prognosis was so dire that doctors at UMass Medical Center told Jean to say good-bye to her baby. Zoie was baptized on her deathbed.
“All I could do is pray and beg to God not to take my baby,” said Jean.
She and other family members never left the baby’s side, she said.
Slowly, Zoie came out of her coma and began the grueling process of recovery. Due to her broken femur, the baby was in a body cast, hooked up to tubes and wires. She spent her first birthday in the hospital. Zoie was brought home just before Christmas 2006.
“Our lives have been changed forever,” said Jean, who now lives with Zoie in Leominster.
“Zoie can’t run with her friends. She can’t see the world around her, and she has next to nothing for freedom,” she said.
Geri told the judge that when she got the call that Zoie was in the hospital, “I didn’t realize then that our lives would never be the same.”
Because Dean-Lopez refused to admit he had injured the baby, even accidentally, the state Department of Social Services stepped in and prevented anyone from visiting Zoie until Dean-Lopez was arrested days later.
“For five nights, Zoie was alone in ICU because Bert lied,” Geri said.
Normandin, speaking for Dean-Lopez, told the judge that his client is “deeply, deeply remorseful. He does love Zoie.”