Deviaun Toler, the 30-year-old former Palm Coast resident a jury found guilty of burning his infant son’s arm with boiling water, leaving him black and blue with marks from whippings and breaking his skull in brutal beatings over “weeks of abuse,” as the prosecutor described it, was sentenced to 20years in prison today, followed by 10 years on probation.
The sentence only partly echoed the prosecutor’s wish that Toler be sentenced consecutively to the four charges he faced, including two first-degree felony charges, each of which carries a maximum penalty of 30 years. A second degree felony charge of child neglect with great harm and a third-degree felony charge of child abuse added a potential 20 years, for a total 80 years.
The bottom of the sentencing guidelines, based on Toler’s scoresheet, was a minimum of 15 years.
“This was not a one-time event. This was repeated torture of a 20-month baby,” Assistant State Attorney Melissa Clark said today. “It could easily have been rectified had Deviaun Toler just given the baby back,” she said: the child’s mother, who was separated from Toler, had been begging to have the child back. Toler, who’d assumed custody presumably just for a holiday period, refused, because–Clark said–his injuries were already visible.
“Judge,” Clark told Circuit Judge Terence Perkins, who had presided over the week-long trial, “I think that this case, you know, it frankly is just horrific. This little boy, a 20 month old, was tortured for being a toddler.” She said he was “tortured for six weeks, and I think the defendant needs to pay for that.”
“Factually, this is probably one of the toughest cases that I’ve had,” Hager, his attorney, said, recalling Toler’s rejection of an offer of a settlement. He had argued at trial that whippings, which he conceded, had nothing to do with the child’s skull fracture. He asked the court not to hold Toler’s decision to go to trial against him, and to take into account his previously clean record–that “he was positive, he smiled, he participated in community projects.” For those six weeks of his life when he had to care for a child, he was “ill equipped,” Hager said, asking for a sentence of 15 years.
Toler himself declined to address the court.
The boy, referred to as TT in previous articles, has since been adopted. He is still suffering. He was adopted on Nov. 9, but his adoptive mother and father first met him in July 2019, and he moved in in May 2020. His mother testified today.
He is 5 years old, in kindergarten, but he has so many different therapy sessions that homeschooling has become necessary after he was in an in-person school. He’d been enrolled in an exceptional student education school, because of cognitive delays. Even grasping a fork or a spoon or a fork has been difficult. He is unable to button his buttons, use his zippers, even though at his age he normally should be able to. He is in occupational and physical therapy. He is often off balance. He cannot figure out simple puzzles, or even holding a sandwich correctly.
His arm is still scarred. “A scar is a scar,” his mother said, trying not to cry. “So it’s not going to be irritating him that way, but emotionally, when people come up to him and ask him what happened, I don’t know if I really should say what he actually has said.” He knows what took place, from being told. He is embarrassed by it, but his parents have changed the story to the extent that he could describe the injury as a result of him being a “warrior,” teaching him to say, “Oh, I was in a battle or I’m strong.” A skin graft operation was considered, but it would not be simple or painless, and the decision is being delayed for him to have input.
He has had “outbursts” and has tended to be physical toward people, but that has lessened as he’s been with his new parents. He refused to shower initially. “He needed to have boiling hot showers to feel like he’s showered,” his mother said.
It was the first time that Toler was hearing about his former son in those details. He has lost parental rights. He sat on a metal bench at the jail, looking at the screen, showing no emotions.
His mother testified, as she had in court during trial–when she candidly spoke of her own uses of corporal punishment, with “switches,” to discipline him. “He is loved and will be supported now and upon successful release,” she said. “I want the court to know that this unfortunate experience is not a true reflection of his life. He has done amazing things, and will help anyone. No, he is not perfect. Neither did he live a life of crime.” She implored the judge to consider “the lowest possible sentence” so she, “a breast cancer survivor of 10 years,” she said, could live to see him walk free again.
In court, the words of the rich and famous are not supposed to carry more weight than those less rich and not famous. They did not necessarily do so today. Toler drew several character letters from family and friends, and other people who’d known growing up. One of those was Emmitt Smith III, who played in the NFL for 15 seasons, mostly with Dallas, and holds the league record for all-time rushing.
“I am aware of the charges and guilty verdicts,” Smith wrote in a two-paragraph letter on Dec. 5. “It is with respect that I ask you for leniency for Deviaun Toler. If given minimal years, I am confident that Deviaun will return to society as a resolute citizen, ready to contribute his time, talents and testimony to his community.”
Smith had mentored Toler when he was younger, and awarded him one of the Emmitt and Pat Smith Charities scholarships. “During those years Deviaun shared in many family gatherings, birthday parties and private events. Being one of the eldest among my children and many others, I attest that he was a kind and patient young man.”
The letter was one of seven entered into the court’s record. Another was from Marcus Watkins, a law enforcement officer in Pensacola and a member of that city’s chapter of 100 Black Men, the civic organization. He described Toler taking part in community service projects and events, talking to youths on crime prevention and raising funds for a local youth football program. “He will be better and do better,” Walker wrote. “When this matter is behind him and he has served his time, I will welcome Deviaun and put him back to work. Our community needs him.”