A North Aurora man was acquitted halfway through his trial Thursday on charges he scalded his 19-month-old son so severely in August 2009 that the toddler's toes had to be amputated and he had to learn to walk again.
Kane County Judge Timothy Sheldon issued a directed finding of "not guilty" for charges of heinous battery and aggravated domestic battery against Jason Barnes, 37.
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Outside the courtroom, a tearful Barnes, who faced a possible 60-year maximum extended term if convicted, said he was eager to see his son and daughter, now 2½ and 4.
"I'm innocent. I love my children. I've always loved them. This has been a two-year nightmare. I've never hurt my children. I'm so glad it's over and I can't wait to see them," he said. "I can now go on with my life and be the best possible father I can be."
In a directed finding, a judge considers evidence in a light most favorable to the prosecution. It's a routine motion in most criminal cases that is usually rejected by a judge without much deliberation.
Sheldon ruled that he could not convict Barnes on opinion alone and that the state didn't have enough evidence for the trial to move forward.
"It was absolutely the right decision," defense attorney Sandra Byrd said. who did not have to call any witnesses.
Assistant State's Attorneys Lori Schmidt and Deb Bree declined to comment afterward. A message left for Kane County State's Attorney Joe McMahon was not immediately returned.
In the three-day bench trial, the defense argued it was an unfortunate accident.
Byrd said Barnes was watching his two kids on the morning of Aug. 15, 2009 at his home on the 700 block of Lloyd Lane per the custody agreement with their mother.
He cooked them blueberry pancakes and turned on the TV before going upstairs to clean. Barnes heard his daughter screaming and found his son standing in the first-floor powder room sink, holding the bathroom mirror while hot water overflowed onto floor, Byrd said.
Prosecutors had doctors testify that the bathroom sink was too shallow for the burns to have extended from the toddler's feet to his buttocks.
On Tuesday, an emergency room doctor at Provena Mercy Medical Center in Aurora who treated the toddler testified that the burns didn't match Barnes' story.
Dr. Demetra Soter, a child abuse and burn expert who worked as a pediatrician for 20 years on the Cook County Children's Hospital's child abuse team, testified Thursday that the burns were all the way around the toddler's thighs and it would have been impossible to get burned that way if the boy was standing or even sitting in the sink.
"I do not believe that the injuries that extend 16, 17 inches (up the toddler's body) could have occurred in that sink," Soter said. "It appears to be an immersion burn. It doesn't look like a pour burn. It looks like an immersion burn which did not happen in small sink like that."
Outside the courtroom, Barnes said that he would run out of hot water in a short amount of time before and after the accident.
Barnes said a plumber told him the hot water heater had never been flushed and it was filled halfway with sediment, causing the temperature to be unusually high.