MANASSAS, Va. (WUSA9) -- Shock and outrage in Manassas after a judge gave a young woman who murdered a Manassas toddler a relatively light sentence behind bars.
Elijah Nealey was 23 months old on August 22, 2013 when he was murdered by his young babysitter. Twenty-two-year-old Jessica Fraraccio pleaded guilty and was facing 50 years in prison.
But today, Prince William County Circuit Judge J. Howe Brown gave her only five years behind bars.
"We're pretty shocked by the leniency of the judge. I can't say justice was served today," said Elijah's father, Mike Nealey.
He and his wife Jen both took the stand during the sentencing hearing. They said their only son was an awesome, happy little boy who loved Spiderman, dinosaurs and everyone he met. In painful detail, they each recalled the day they learned their son had died.
Fraraccio had originally told police that Elijah slipped and fell in the bathtub. Seven months later, she confessed to causing his death. The prosecutor said Fraraccio told police that she was angry and frustrated and pulled the boy's small chair out from under him, causing him to hit his head. She then picked up the child by his feet, and banged his head as she walked with him. Then, Fraraccio said she put her hand over the boy's mouth and nose, preventing him from breathing. Elijah Nealey died of suffocation.
Mike asked Judge Brown to "punish her for what she did to the fullest extent the law will allow...she does not deserve to live out her life, like he could not."
Jennifer Nealey talked about the daily fear she now has for her two surviving children, two young daughters, worried "I'm going to get a phone call that something has happened to them."
She said she's had to lie to her girls about Fraraccio but that she knew someday she would have to tell them the truth.
"They're going to have to know that there are monsters in this world," and that their beloved babysitter killed their brother, she said. She asked the judge to send her to prison "for as long as possible."
The defense emphasized Fraraccio's clean record, with not even one traffic ticket. They called a licensed professional counselor who said Fraraccio showed no sign of being a sociopath and was a kind, passive person. He said he believed she must have endured some kind of abuse to act out so violently.
Defense attorney Sandra Drewniak called the incident an accident and compared it to shaken baby syndrome. She asked the court for mercy and compassion.
Prosecutor Teresa Polinske told the court what Fraraccio did was "pure, inexcusable evil" and asked for the maximum 40 years for the murder count and 10 years for child abuse.
Fraraccio stood and asked for "forgiveness from the court, God, my parents and the Nealeys... I want to tell the Nealeys how truly sorry I am."
Fraraccio said she had taken responsibility for she she'd done and hoped her punishment would help bring closure and healing to the Nealeys.
Judge Brown said he had put a lot of thought into the punishment, one that would be appropriate for the severity of the crime, honor Elijah and not treat Fraraccio like a monster, because he said she isn't.
He sentenced her to a total of 50 years, with 45 years suspended, which is five behind bars. Fraraccio will be out when she's 26 years old.
Judge Brown also ordered Fraraccio to never have any contact with children, unless they are her own, and he ordered her to send a donation to the charity of her choice, in memory of Elijah, every year for the rest of her life on Aug. 22, the day she killed the little boy.
The sentence is reminiscent of the one given to Kevin Kelly who was convicted in the negligent death of his 13th and youngest child, Francis, by leaving her in a hot van for an entire day. Defense attorneys said Kelly had written a letter to the court in this case in support of Fraraccio.
Commonwealth's Attorney Paul Ebert said he was surprised by the sentenced.
Written by Peggy Fox