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Ventura County

Father Pleads Guilty in Boy's Shaking Death

Courts: Simi Valley man, who previously claimed innocence, avoids trial on a more serious charge. He faces a sentence of 15 years to life in prison.

January 08, 2002|TRACY WILSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

After proclaiming his innocence for more than a year, a 26-year-old Simi Valley man pleaded guilty Monday to shaking his infant son to death.

Brian Trelatsky faces a mandatory sentence of 15 years to life in prison. He had been scheduled to stand trial this week on a charge of child abuse causing death, which carries a penalty of 25 years to life in prison. But before jury selection could begin, he offered to plead guilty to a lesser charge of second-degree murder, and prosecutors accepted.

"What Mr. Trelatsky did today reduces his sentence by 10 years," Senior Deputy Dist. Atty. Dee Corona said. But she said the penalty is still significant because Trelatsky could be held in prison for life if denied parole.

Trelatsky entered his plea during a brief appearance before Ventura County Superior Court Judge Ken Riley.

Afterward, Deputy Public Defender Todd Howeth declined to explain the reasons behind the plea change or discuss 10-week-old Tyler Trelatsky's death.

"I think because it is a very sensitive case, I'd rather wait," he said. "I think the whole family, including Mr. Trelatsky, is devastated."

A stay-at-home father, Trelatsky was the primary caregiver for Tyler and an older son, Scottie, now 3.

On the afternoon of March 28, 2000, firefighters and police responded to a 911 call of a baby not breathing and found Tyler in cardiac arrest at the family's mobile home.

Tyler was taken to Simi Valley Hospital for initial treatment, then transferred to the pediatric intensive-care unit at Northridge Hospital Medical Center.

Doctors determined he had retinal hemorrhaging and brain swelling, symptoms consistent with shaken-baby syndrome, police said. He died the next day.

Six months later, Trelatsky was arrested and charged with child abuse causing death.

At a preliminary hearing, his wife, Catherine Trelatsky, described him as a loving father. But she also acknowledged that she sometimes found bruises and scratches on Tyler.

She described her son as a sickly child who weighed less than 5 pounds when he came home from the hospital after his birth.

She also testified that the couple's older son was jealous of the baby and would sometimes pull on his arms and legs. She cited one incident in which Scottie allegedly jumped on the baby's head and another in which he allegedly hit the child on the head.

But the medical examiner who performed the autopsy testified it was unlikely a toddler could have inflicted the fatal injuries.

In addition to the brain swelling and hemorrhaging, Dr. Janice Frank testified that Tyler had several rib fractures in various stages of healing.

Such fractures, she said, could be expected if a parent were "grasping the child around the chest and shaking the child violently."

A judge ruled the evidence sufficient to order Trelatsky to stand trial. He is scheduled to be sentenced Feb. 7.

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