Child abuse bill signed into law years after death of 2-year-old - WDRB 41 Louisville News

Child abuse bill signed into law years after death of 2-year-old

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FRANKFORT, Ky. (WDRB) -- Four years ago, a two-year-old boy was pricked with a thumbtack more than 140 times, and abused so badly, he died.

The man responsible will be out of prison after serving 5-1/2 years -- but the boy's mother has succeeded in making sure that, from now on, abusers in Kentucky who kill will stay in prison longer.

"I just see such a happy, free spirit," said Mashanna Bachuss Waggoner, when she looks at a picture of her two-year-old son, Conner Bachuss. The boy had white-blonde hair and electric blue eyes. "He definitely didn't deserve what happened to him."

Conner Bachuss' life was taken by Ronald Saunders II, four years ago in Paducah. Bachuss Waggoner says Saunders, her boyfriend at the time, used a thumbtack on her child.

"Conner had 148 puncture wounds on his body," Bachuss Waggoner explained. "He had blunt force trauma to the head and face. He had been without oxygen for over a 10-minute period."

Saunders will be out of prison by next April after serving just 5-1/2 years. He was originally charged with murder, looking at 25 years to life in prison. But he took a plea deal to a lesser crime, manslaughter in the second degree, a non-violent crime.

"I was sick and devastated," said Bachuss Waggoner.

Defendants like Saunders often receive lesser charges because it can be hard to prove child abuse death cases. There are often no witnesses to the crime.

There is nothing Bachuss Waggoner can do to keep Saunders in prison longer. But every chance she has gotten, she has told Conner's story to anyone who'd listen.

"I went to several political rallies, I went to Fancy Farm picnic two years in a row," said Bachuss Waggoner.

A bill to toughen child abuse death laws failed to pass the last two years. But this session, Conner's Law became law, with a signature from Governor Steve Beshear. Manslaughter in the first degree, which carries a 10-20 year sentence, now includes fatal child abuse. Plus, abusers have to serve 85 percent of that sentence before being released.

"I think it's going to be a good tool for the jurors, and I think we'll have much better outcomes in these cases," said Senator Danny Carroll, who sponsored the bill.

A mother's love got Bachuss Waggoner through the pain, and her son's story has moved mountains.

"He has done amazing things," she said. "In his name, nobody will get anymore little-to-light sentences. It takes a huge stance against fatal child abuse."

Legislators say this law obviously will not prevent child abuse deaths, but it will provide a more just outcome for families who do lose a child to abuse.

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