After Dakota Eldridge stopped his infant son's breathing in T.C. Thompson Children's Hospital at Erlanger, prosecutors said, he gave a written confession and told family members from a recorded jail phone line what he had done.
But Eldridge entered a plea of not guilty in the 2011 case, and he was scheduled to stand trial in Hamilton County in December.
On Tuesday, Eldridge changed his plea, instead accepting an agreement from the district attorney general's office that would allow for a sentence below the maximum penalty and an earlier possibility of parole. Eldridge should be technically eligible for parole in seven to eight years, Assistant District Attorney General Charlie Minor said.
Eldridge, 22, of Smyrna, Tenn., pleaded guilty to a charge of attempted first-degree murder and a lesser charge of attempted aggravated child abuse. Judge Don Poole sentenced Eldridge to 20 years in prison on the first charge and 12 years on the second charge. Those terms will be served concurrently.
"That's middle of the range for what he's facing," Minor said.
Eldridge was 19 in June 2011 when he and his girlfriend, the baby's mother, took the child to Rhea County Medical Center, where he was prescribed medication to treat vomiting. While filling the prescription, they later told doctors, they saw bloody stool in the child's diaper. He then was treated at Erlanger hospital in Chattanooga, where prosecutors say the crime took place.
Police said Eldridge covered his son's mouth and nose three times while the boy was in the hospital. Video showed him holding the child before his breathing stopped, and Eldridge provided a written confession to police after his arrest, Minor said in court Tuesday.
Assistant District Public Defender Blake Murchison had sought to have Eldridge's interview with police and jailhouse phone calls in which he allegedly confessed suppressed during trial, but those motions were denied.
After Eldridge entered his plea, Poole told him, "you're still a young man, sir. I hope the rest of your life is better than that."
Contact staff writer Claire Wiseman at 423-757-6347 or firstname.lastname@example.org.