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Teen receives 20 years in beating death of 2-year-old Marilla boy

Michael Mroziak, WBFO

After denying a defense request for youthful offender status, an Erie County Court Judge sentenced Devon VanDerwege Wednesday morning to 20 years in prison for his admitted role in the death of a toddler in the Town of Marilla last year.

VanDerwege, 18,  pleaded guilty earlier this year to first degree manslaughter in the March 2017 fatal beating of 2-year-old Ethan Bigham inside the Town of Marilla trailer home in which both lived, along with several other adults and children. VanDerwege, investigators say, had recently moved into the home after being kicked out of his own.

Bigham, who suffered blunt-force trauma, died two days later when he was removed from life support. 

In court, prosecuting attorney Colleen Curtin Gable acknowledged that as the investigation into the toddler's death continued, the story kept changing and blame was shifted but, ultimately, it was the defendant who carried out the assault.

"Today is about holding this defendant accountable for what he did," she said. "He was the person, and the only person, who inflicted fatal injuries on two-and-a-half year-old Ethan Bigham."

Curtin Gable also argued against a defense request to grant youthful offender status to VanDerwege, saying any 17-year-old knows it's wrong to inflict head injuries on a toddler as he did. 

Defense attorney Kevin Spitler expressed his disappointment following the sentence, arguing that numerous conditions including VanDerwege's difficult background - which included being kicked out of his own home - should have been taken into account. 

The teenager lived in the trailer home with a friend, the latter's girlfriend, two other adults and four children including the victim. VanDerwege, it was described, helped out as an informal babysitter for the kids. 

Judge James Bargnesi acknowledged VanDerwege's difficult situation but said in court that what he did to the toddler was "not a one-second mistake."

Erie County District Attorney John Flynn, following proceedings, agreed with the sentence and the decision to deny youthful offender status.

"What he did doesn't deserve a second chance," Flynn said. "He deserves 20 years. He murdered a two-year-old boy. The time for second chances has come and gone, as far as I'm concerned."

Several people attended court in support of VanDerwege, some of whom wept bitterly upon the close of the session. Both Judge Bargnesi and later Flynn asked, where were the people offering support for VanDerwege now when he needed a place to stay then?

Flynn also noted that the mother of the child faces misdemeanor charges in relation to the fatality, accused of failing to seek prompt medical attention for her son after the assault.

Michael Mroziak is an experienced, award-winning reporter whose career includes work in broadcast and print media. When he joined the WBFO news staff in April 2015, it was a return to both the radio station and to Horizons Plaza.
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