Caitlyn Metz spoke through heavy emotion and tears as she spoke about the love she had for her son, Keegan Metz.
The 26-year-old mother and her ex-husband, Joshua Starner, a former Fort Campbell soldier, were both convicted of beating 23-month-old Keegan to death on Feb. 7, 2009. Keegan died from multiple blunt force injuries and had severe brain injuries, bruises all over his body and other injuries at the time of his death.
It was originally believed Metz left Keegan with Starner at their apartment at 100D Ballygar St. for two hours while going to the store. Keegan was in good health and doing well when she left, but when she returned, Keegan was unresponsive in his bed.
He was taken to Vanderbilt Children's Hospital in Nashville. Starner was immediately arrested. After more investigation, Metz was arrested in February 2012.
In May, a Montgomery County jury found Metz and Starner, 26, guilty as charged of two counts of felony murder, aggravated child abuse and aggravated child neglect.
They were both sentenced to an automatic life sentence with the felony murder convictions, but Thursday Judge Mike R. Jones sentenced them for the abuse and neglect charges.
Judge Jones sentenced Starner to life, plus a total of 15 years. He sentenced Metz to 15 years on each count but ruled they would be served concurrent, or at the same time as the life sentence.
Starner will be 92 years old before he is eligible for parole. Metz will be 77.
Before they were sentenced, Metz and Starner addressed the court. Both maintained their innocence and provided no explanation of what happened to Keegan. Instead, they professed their love for Keegan and the extreme grief they experienced following his death.
Robert Nash, assistant district attorney, asked for maximum sentences for both. He said the gruesome, graphic photographs of Keegan's injuries and the medical proof at trial showed that Keegan was brutally beaten to death at the hands of the two people who were supposed to care for him.
"Those injuries included contusions, bruises on his forehead, eyes, bridge of his nose, choke marks on his neck indicating strangulation, bruises on his ears, damage to his brain ... his brain was injured and swollen to the point it cut off all blood flow and oxygen to his brain and he died," Nash said, his voice filling with emotion.
"... It was a two-day period of beating this 2-year-old child to death. No one stops the other. No one calls for help, and they continue to beat him for two days," Nash said. "(This was) one of the most heinous crimes to inflict on such a young child by two parents. This child didn't have a chance. They should be shown no leniency."
Metz: 'I'm a good mother'
Metz, who gave birth to a baby boy following her jury trial, spoke about the emotional pain she's experienced from Keegan's death.
"As as mother, the constant emotional pain to know a child was taken way too soon, and to know that that child is my son, is constantly there every day," Metz said. "Everyday since the day I lost my precious son, who was my entire world, I've asked people to please bring my son back to me here on Earth ... Everyday the pictures would play in my head of how my son looked when I got home from the store. Everyday my mind replays me constantly asking the nurses and doctors if I can hold my son, only to be told, 'I'm sorry, you can't because all of the wires and tubes, but you can hold his hand.' .... I had the hope that maybe he could get better ... Everyday in my mind I replay me holding my son's hand as the doctors perform the last test and pronounce my son dead. The emotional pain and sadness I experienced in that hospital, I still feel today. My son is part of my world and will forever be."
Metz said she made mistakes and one was marrying Starner before she got to know him.
"I was 21 and naive ... I made mistakes in my life because I'm not perfect; none of us are. My mistake was marrying too soon and not taking my time to get to know Josh first. We were married seven weeks total, and four of those weeks were spent in Clarksville ...When I got married to Josh, I did it for my son. I wanted my son to have the upbringing I was truly blessed to have: a two-parent household. ... I never thought any of my thoughts and understandings would (lead to) anyone being capable of hurting a child that was as innocent, lovable, happy and outgoing as my son. He was perfect in my eyes ... I love my son more than anything. There's not a single day that passes where I don't wish I could change what happened."
Metz denied ever hurting Keegan.
"... I have never harmed any of my three kids, and I never would and I never will. ... I'm a loving mother, and my kids mean more to me than anything else. .. Never was I a bad mother. I never thought my mistakes would end this way."
Starner maintains innocence
Starmer addressed the court for the first time as well, clinging to his innocence and giving a religiously inspired speech.
"My life has not been the same since my son passed away," Starner said, his voice breaking with emotion. "... No words can express the overwhelming grief I experienced for many months following my son's death. While it might be argued by some, the truth is I loved my son and he loved me. ... My son was my world and my joy. "
Starner said he became suicidal and grieved deeply the first few months he was in jail. He spoke about finding God and his study of the Bible. He spoke about his faith in God and said he would continue his ministry in prison and fulfill his God-given commission.
He said he did not kill his step-son.
"I will continue to uphold the truth of my innocence in the events surrounding the death of my son, " Starner said. "To beg for mercy by conveying a false testimony to which an admission of guilt is provided to this court in hope of obtaining a lesser sentence would be perjury, a crime against the truth and a sin against God."
He pointed to his rehabilitation accomplishments in jail of obtaining a Bachelor's degree and working on his Master's degree, as well as becoming an ordained minister. He said he has ministered while incarcerated and will continue to do so.
"I am a changed person from who I once was when I was in the Army prior to my arrest," Starner said.
He asked for leniency for himself and mercy for Caitlyn Metz.
Following the sentencing hearing, those involved, including a juror who came for closure, said they were relieved that justice was served for Keegan Metz.