MONCKS CORNER -- Justin Hillerby is going to prison for the rest of his life.
A jury Thursday found the 27-year-old guilty of homicide by child abuse in the death of 22-month-old Blaise Spoerl in September 2008.
"Yes!" yelled Blaise's grandmother, Sharon Spoerl, as Circuit Judge Kristi Harrington imposed the sentence.
Hillerby's attorney had asked Harrington not to give his client the maximum penalty, in hopes that someday Hillerby could be reunited with his own son.
Hillerby maintains his innocence.
"I didn't do it," he told Harrington. "I don't have that mentality."
Hillerby told jurors Thursday morning that he had no idea how the boy suffered 23 blows to his head and face. The child was found dead in his crib the morning of Sept. 15.
"I did not hit Blaise," he testified. "When I put him to bed he was fine."
But prosecutors said Hillerby's own words -- in comments made at the scene, statements he gave to investigators and in a collect phone call he made from jail to Blaise's mother -- clearly showed he was responsible for the child's death.
In closing arguments, Assistant Solicitor Anne Williams read aloud a statement Hillerby made to Jen Spoerl, the boy's mother, after he called her from jail on Sept. 26. "Maybe I smacked him. When he hit the floor is I guess when it started," Williams quoted Hillerby. "I didn't notice. I was drunk."
Michael Bosnak, Hillerby's attorney, criticized the case, saying it was based on "false confessions," none of which were recorded. He said there was no blood evidence, no DNA evidence and no evidence that he was drunk.
"There's not one bit of physical evidence in this case that says Justin Hillerby did anything to this child," the attorney said.
He said Hillerby's roommates were home that evening, and no one testified that they heard or saw anything out of the ordinary. Hillerby told police he put the child in timeout after the child spilled his drink. He told investigators that at one point, the child accidentally ran into his knee.
Bosnak hinted that some of the others in the house, including the child's mother, who returned home later that evening, had the opportunity to harm the child after his client fed the child, put him in his pajamas and put him in his crib.
"The child was beaten," the defense attorney said. "This was no accident. Somebody beat this kid."
Williams referred to doctor's testimony this week, saying there was little blood because the boy was bleeding inside his brain. The doctor, she said, testified that such a massive brain injury would have likely made the child lethargic.
Sgt. Ray Dixson, a polygraph examiner for the Dorchester County Sheriff's office, testified Thursday that Hillerby agreed to take a polygraph but canceled it. "He said he didn't want to take the test because he knows what happened," Dixson said.
He said Hillerby also told him that he "might have shaken him a little."
Williams said Hillerby told investigators that his roommates had nothing to do with the child's death. She also referred to an audiotape of a discussion between Hillerby and Spoerl, in which she told him she had been arrested on a charge of unlawful conduct toward a child.
"For what?" Hillerby said, "You didn't do anything."