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Judge rejects inmate’s appeal in boy’s death

An appeal for a lesser sentence filed by a Johnstown woman convicted of third-degree murder of a 10-month-old boy has been rejected by the Pennsylvania Superior Court.

Hayley Nichole Butler, 28, was sentenced in December 2015 by Cambria County Judge David J. Tulowitski to 10 to 25 years in state prison for killing Brennon Everett, her boyfriend’s child.

Butler, who was babysitting the child when he was injured, was charged in 2014 with murder, aggravated assault and endangering the welfare of a child.

Initially, she said the boy was injured in a fall, but physicians from UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh concluded the head injuries, broken ribs and multiple bruises suffered by the child were the result of child abuse.

Butler entered a no-contest plea in October 2015, and after sentencing, was incarcerated in the State Correctional Institution at Cambridge Springs.

In her most recent appeal, Butler asked that her sentence be reduced because her trial attorney during sentencing failed to mention that she suffered from severe mental health issues.

Butler said that she did not raise those issues during the sentencing hearing because she was embarrassed and she did not want her mother to learn about her mental health struggles.

To support her appeal, she obtained her mental health records and presented them to the judge.

They showed she suffered from depressive disorder, post-traumatic stress and nightmares.

Her appeals attorney, Mark Zearfaus of Altoona, while asking permission to withdraw from further representation of Butler, posed the question of whether the trial judge had abused his discretion by not modifying Butler’s sentence.

Superior Court Judge Dan Pellegrini in an opinion issued last Friday rejected the sentence-modification request, pointing out a judge’s discretion cannot be challenged unless the sentence imposed was inconsistent with the sentencing code or against the “fundamental norms” that underlie the sentencing process.

It also ruled that Zearfaus could withdraw as Butler’s attorney.

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