A Waggaman man was sentenced to 40 years in prison Monday for beating his 14-year-old son to death after the boy came home with a failing grade on a report card.
In handing down the sentence, Judge Stephen Grefer, of 24th Judicial District Court in Gretna, gave Furnell Daniel Sr. the maximum possible prison term for fatally beating Jalen Daniel in their Clifford Court home in January 2016.
“I don’t doubt for a minute that you regret every day the action that you took in this matter, but that does not absolve you of any responsibility," Grefer said before handing down the sentence.
Daniel, 45, was convicted of manslaughter on Nov. 18. He was charged with second-degree murder, which carries a life sentence, but a jury of eight women and four men found him guilty of the lesser charge.
Lionel "Lon" Burns, Daniel's attorney, reiterated his contention Monday that his client was overcharged, saying he was guilty of negligent homicide at most.
Daniel was accused of beating his son Jalen with a board, fracturing the boy’s kneecap, patella, wrist, hand and skull. The boy had three contusions on his head, and the bleeding caused by the skull fracture began putting pressure on his brain.
Daniel didn’t call 911 until noon on the following day, even though the boy complained about the pain and woke up sweating and vomiting at 5 a.m. By noon, he had gone into cardiac arrest and was barely breathing.
Medical witnesses for the prosecution said Jalen could have lived had he been taken to the hospital sooner.
Burns submitted handwritten letters from three inmates who have come to know Daniel in prison and wanted to ask the judge for leniency. One was from Ronald Gasser, who is accused of gunning down former football star Joe McKnight during a road rage incident.
Gasser described Daniel as "contrite" and "a dear friend," while inmate Christopher Griffin said Daniel has played a key role in keeping the inmates on his tier "spiritually grounded and motivated to do better and make wiser decisions."
Daniel, an associate minister who described himself as devout, also submitted an eight-page letter to the judge, most of which detailed his efforts to help his sons get their grades up and stay out of trouble.
Daniel wrote that he administered beatings to Jalen and his brother because "I felt I had no other choice," but he called it "the worst mistake of my life."
Grefer said that in considering the appropriate punishment for Daniel, he took into account the extent of the boy’s injuries and whether Daniel would be a danger to his other children.
“I have concerns for your other children that that type of discipline would reoccur … and could get out of hand,” he said.
Grefer also denied a defense request for a new trial. Burns argued that the state struck black jurors from the jury during the selection process without valid reasons.
He said the initial jury pool looked like a cross-section of Jefferson Parish, demographically, but “by the time we were finished, we were down to two black people.”
Assistant District Attorney Lindsay Truhe, however, said the state established that the black jurors whom prosecutors rejected had either expressed ambivalence about delivering a verdict that could put someone in prison for life or had indicated they had issues with the state Department of Children and Family Services, from which prosecutors called witnesses to testify about previous incidents involving Daniel.
Grefer also rejected Burns’ claims that the charge of second-degree murder was excessive; that the jury’s late night, six-hour deliberation caused them to feel pressured to deliver a verdict; and that witness sequestration rules had been violated, among other things.
Grefer ruled on the sequestration issue during the trial after Burns asked for a mistrial because a District Attorney's Office staffer hugged Daniel’s son Furnell Jr., who testified against his father, during a break in the testimony and told him he was doing a good job.
Grefer put the employee, who is a victim assistance coordinator, and 16-year-old Furnell Daniel Jr. under oath immediately afterward and asked them about the exchange. He ruled there was no substantive violation of sequestration and denied the request for a mistrial.