Categories: Schenectady County
Brad Gilbert introduced a video montage of his daughter Riley, starting off with a happy and energetic 2-year-old, dancing and singing.
The video quickly turned, however, to the now-3-year-old Riley, who is far from what she once was.
It shows a little girl who can’t walk and can’t talk. She also can’t feed herself. She is legally blind.
At the Tuesday sentencing of the former babysitter and family friend convicted of causing the brain injury that left Riley in her current state, Riley’s father told Acting Schenectady County Court Judge Richard Giardino how the crime has affected him and his family.
“Every day I come home and my daughter can’t run to me,” Gilbert told the court. “She can’t say ‘hi’ to me.”
Rebecca Polomaine was convicted in April of first-degree assault. The jury found she smashed Riley’s skull while the girl was in her care March 27, 2007.
After hearing from both of Riley’s parents, Brad and Lisa Gilbert, along with Polomaine and, in an unusual move, Polomaine’s sister-in-law, Giardino sentenced Polomaine to 18 years in state prison.
An audible gasp went through the courtroom, packed with 50 Polomaine and Gilbert relatives, as Giardino pronounced sentence. The families, which had once been close, were separated on either side of the courtroom gallery.
The judge said he took into account Polomaine’s lack of criminal history, the effect on her own four children and the severity of the case. The sentence is seven years under the maximum.
Polomaine, who has maintained her innocence throughout, once rejected a plea-bargain offer that would have sent her to prison for five years.
Dressed in an orange jail uniform, Polomaine stood next to her attorney, Joseph Litz, as she read her own statement.
She noted that she had never been in trouble with the law before and she did not agree with the verdict.
She cited her own four children who need her and said she has babysat since the age of 11. She is in her early 30s now.
“It is unfortunate that Brad and Lisa Gilbert have been made to think that I’m a monster,” Polomaine said, adding later, “I couldn’t possibly hurt anyone, let alone a child.”
Giardino directed Litz to file all the necessary appeal papers.
Litz called his client a loving wife and mother. He also argued that she should not be punished for taking her case to trial.
In an unusual move, Giardino allowed a representative of Polomaine’s family to address the court. Law allows for family of the victim to speak at sentencing but not for family of the defendant.
Polomaine’s sister-in-law, Michelle Rose, called Polomaine a wonderful mother to her four children. “They’ll suffer terribly without their mother.”
In pronouncing sentence, Giardino also pointed out the unusual situation the Polomaine family was in Tuesday.
In 1995, Rose’s sister, Jackie Polomaine, was murdered in Schenectady. The family was in the same courthouse for the trial of her killer, then as the victims.
Rebecca Polomaine’s prosecutor, Andra Ackerman, Tuesday argued for the maximum sentence allowed of 25 years.
That sentence would still allow Polomaine to go free, back to her family, Ackerman said.
Riley Gilbert will never be as she was, she said. “Riley Gilbert will always be trapped in her own prison.”
Ackerman also addressed the severity of the girl’s injuries, something she said the sentence should reflect. “If it were any worse, Riley Gilbert would be dead.”
The guilty verdict came at the end of a three-week trial that featured testimony from medical experts brought in and paid for by the defense and the prosecution. The dueling experts described how the child could have fractured her skull so severely it caused her brain to swell and sent her into convulsions.
One of the defense’s contentions was that Polomaine‘s 4-year-old daughter slammed full force into Riley, sending her crashing onto or into a hard surface with her head.
The prosecution said the force required to cause Riley’s injury was akin to dropping her out of a second- or third-story window onto concrete.
Giardino allowed the video of Riley at sentencing. Her father said they contemplated having her in court but ultimately decided it could be traumatic for her. The video was the next best option.
The video showed a girl now in a wheelchair monogrammed with her own name who struggles to keep her head up. A therapist plays and works with Riley. It was difficult to discern a response.
In the portion of the video prior to her injuries, Riley is seen in a sandbox, her father starting “Old MacDonald” and Riley finishing the rhyme’s signature first line.
Riley’s mother Lisa talked in her own statement of the overwhelming fear in the early days that her daughter would not make it. She talked of one moment in the Albany Medical Center emergency room where they were pulled aside and she feared the worst.
She also spoke of the past year of rehabilitation and work where she faced infections, surgery and even morphine withdrawal, twice — “all of this before the age of 3.”
Lisa Gilbert struggled to get through her statement, her voice wavering at times.
Polomaine sat listening, at one point shaking her head slowly as Lisa Gilbert said Polomaine waited to call for help to cover up her own actions.
Despite all the setbacks and struggles of the past year, Lisa Gilbert said she and her husband are never without hope for their daughter.
“She faces years and years of continued therapy,” Riley’s mother said. “My husband and I remain optimistic, because we love our daughter and refuse to believe that this is the way she will be forever. We want our daughter back.”