A January 2010 day began well for Orange County's 21-year-old Aaron Michael Laythorpe, who took his girlfriend and their baby on an enjoyable beer-drinking trip to a Fashion Island restaurant in Newport Beach.
A shocked Antonio Padilla, who lived nearby, witnessed the defendant slugging a screaming Jill in the head, then grabbing her by the hair and slamming her face into the concrete at least three times.
The coup de grace: Laythorpe stomped on the then-unconscious woman's face.
"Angry and drunk," he ignored Padilla's demands for him to stop and tried to drag the now-seriously bleeding woman away, according to court records.
When Anaheim Police Department officers arrived, they saw Laythorpe yelling at Padilla and a lifeless-appearing Jill on the ground, blood pouring from her ears and nose.
Emergency-room doctors determined that Jill had suffered injuries to her neck and could barely open her mouth. The right side of her face was paralyzed. She had two broken bones inside her right ear, blood on her brain, blurry vision, as well as bruises all over her face, neck and body.
Ultimately, it took almost two months for Jill, who now suffers from chronic headaches, to have the strength to hold her baby; she has lost 50 percent of her hearing.
The Orange County district attorney's office prosecuted Laythorpe, and a jury convicted him of committing mayhem, inflicting corporal punishment on the mother of his child, four counts of assault with force likely to cause great bodily injury, and battery. Superior Court Judge Francisco P. Briseño sentenced him to prison.
Laythorpe appealed. He wasn't upset with the convictions, though. He believes that Briseño, the well-respected, senior member of the local bench, ordered excessive punishment. His legal theory is that all of the punches, face slamming and stomping was one fluid, criminal act and, thus, cannot be punished multiple times.
On Feb. 28, a California Court of Appeal based in Santa Ana considered the merits of his claims and issued a ruling. In an eight-page decision written by Justice Eileen C. Moore for herself and justices Richard Aronson and Richard Fybel, the court upheld Briseño's sentencing.
"Unlike the situation that may be present when the parties exchange blows in rapid succession--such that it may be said a defendant did not have the opportunity to reflect on his actions before renewing an intent to inflict another blow--here, the defendant had that opportunity," opined Moore. "In this case, [Laythorpe] had an opportunity to reflect between each violent act against the victim, especially after she was knocked unconscious."
The justices also essentially noted that there would be no incentive for criminals to limit their acts of violence if there were no punishment distinctions between punching someone once in the face versus 20 or 50 times.
Upshot: Laythorpe, now 24, will continue to serve his 14-year punishment (minus a credited 668 days of pre-conviction jail time) inside a place where he won't have any natural women to beat: Susanville's High Desert State Prison, an institution that houses medium- and high-security inmates.
If you're an Orange County victim of domestic violence, please contact your local police department, the district attorney or the crisis hotline at Laura's House: 1-866-498-1511.
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