Photos of 6-month-old Demetri Hooper that were held by his parents, Leonard Hooper and Denita Whittaker, outside the Prince George’s County Courthouse. (Lynh Bui/TWP)

Demetri Hooper was a miracle to his parents.

After his mother was told that she'd never be able to have children once she'd battled a brain tumor, she and his father welcomed the smiling boy into the world March 5, 2016.

They dreamed of taking him to football games, celebrating birthdays and hearing his first words.

But just six months after taking their baby home, the new parents abruptly had to say goodbye. A relative they had asked to care for the infant abused him so severely that the child was in a coma at a hospital for several days before he died.

"It is torture for a parent to watch your child lying on a hospital bed taking his last breath," said Leonard Hooper, Demetri's father. "I have so many great memories of my son, but nowhere near enough."

Leonard Hooper was one of several tearful family members who packed a courtroom in Prince George's County Circuit Court on Monday to watch the man convicted of killing Demetri receive a 20-year prison sentence.


Prince George’s County State’s Attorney Angela Alsobrooks, left, looks on as Leonard Hooper and Denita Whittaker speak about the death of their 6-month-old son, Demetri Hooper. The child’s step-grandfather Lenwood Pearson was sentenced Monday to 20 years in prison in the baby’s killing. (Lynh Bui/TWP)

Lenwood Pearson, 50, of Capitol Heights entered an Alford plea to first-degree child abuse resulting in death. The plea means Pearson, Leonard Hooper's stepfather and the baby's stepgrandfather, maintains that he is innocent but acknowledges that prosecutors have enough evidence to prove that he is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

The plea appears on court records as a conviction.

Pearson addressed his stepson at Monday's hearing for the first time since the child's death, saying that he was sorry and that he loved the baby.

"This was a terrible accident," said Pearson, wearing a white jail uniform. "This was not intentional."

Demetri was injured Sept. 13, 2016, prosecutors said. Leonard Hooper and his fiancee were unable to pick up their son from day care and asked Pearson to do so and to care for him until they finished work.

About an hour after picking up his son from his stepfather's home, Leonard Hooper noticed that the baby was unresponsive and called for emergency medical help, prosecutors said. Demetri was flown to Children's National Medical Center, where he died after being in a coma for three days. Doctors found bruises on his body and said he suffered a fractured skull, rib and leg.

Initially, Pearson told police that he had hurt the infant by lifting him into the air, where a ceiling fan blade struck his head, according to the Prince George's County State's Attorney's Office. The boy then fell from his hands and hit his head on a stove before falling to the floor, where he hit his head a third time, Pearson recounted, according to prosecutors.

Prince George's County State's Attorney Angela Alsobrooks called the baby's death a "savage murder" and said Pearson's sentencing was "about justice."

"He will not have the opportunity to harm yet another child," Alsobrooks said.

Pearson's attorney John McKenna said his client has accepted responsibility for his actions but does not remember exactly what led to the baby's death. The memory lapse, McKenna said, might be the result of a substance abuse problem.

"He's certainly done a terrible thing, but it does not define who he is," said McKenna, who had asked for a 12-year prison sentence for Pearson.

Prince George's County Circuit Court Judge Tiffany Anderson issued the maximum of 20 years in the case, calling the child's death a "horrific crime."

Denita Whittaker, Demetri 's mother, said the nearly two years since her son's death have been painful.

His family sang "Happy Birthday" to him at six months because they knew he wouldn't have a first birthday. They watched the line of his heart monitor go flat after he took his last breath. And they bought a white, two-foot casket for the 20-pound child.

"The years that you are receiving don't measure up to the life you destroyed," Whittaker told Pearson during the hearing. "He couldn't defend himself even if he tried."