By Shereen Siewert
A Wausau father now faces charges of first-degree intentional homicide in connection with the January death of his infant son, a more serious charge than initially filed.
Charges of first-degree reckless homicide were filed Feb. 12 against 39-year-old Ronnie Lofton, Jr., roughly one month after his 3-month-old son died. Police say the boy had 21 rib fractures in various stages of healing when he died of blunt force trauma in January. But court records now show the original charge has since been upgraded. Changes to charges can be made for many reasons but are often based on the District Attorney’s ongoing assessment of the case.
The new charge carries a mandatory life sentence upon conviction.
The reason for the change is not yet clear. Wausau Pilot & Review has reached out to Marathon County District Attorney Theresa Wetzsteon for comment and will update this story as new information is released.
Lofton, was arrested Jan. 15 at his home in the 1400 block of North Second Street and is being held on a $250,000 cash bond.
Police say they were notified at about 10:12 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 9 of a 3-month-old infant with an unexplained life-threatening brain injury. The boy was brought to Aspirus Wausau Hospital by his mother and father, but was immediately transported to Marshfield Children’s Hospital due to his grave condition.
Prosecutors say the infant had “suspicious bruising” and an anoxic brain injury. Anoxic brain injuries are caused by a complete lack of oxygen to the brain, which results in the death of brain cells after approximately four minutes, medical officials say.
The boy died on Jan. 14.
Autopsy results pinpointed the cause of death as blunt force trauma, while a skeletal survey revealed the rib fractures and significant bruising on the boy’s body. The doctor performing the autopsy identified a closed head injury with three scalp hemorrhages consistent with the child’s head being struck with or against something solid. A skull fracture on the left side of the head and a subdural hemorrhage were also noted in court documents.
Prosecutors say the child was in Lofton’s care while the boy’s mother went grocery shopping. When she arrived home, the boy was moaning in his pack and play, had one eye closed and did not respond when she picked him up, according to the criminal complaint.
In interviews with police, Lofton allegedly tried to blame the child’s injuries on other children in the home and said bruising on the boy’s abdomen was due to a diaper that was too tight, according to the criminal complaint.
Court records show Lofton has a string of prior criminal convictions for battery, intimidating a victim, burglary, knowingly violating a domestic abuse restraining order and disorderly conduct. On Oct. 26, he was charged in Marathon County Circuit Court with battery, disorderly conduct-domestic abuse and resisting or obstructing an officer and was free on bond at the time of his son’s death. That case has not yet concluded.
Lofton, who is being held on a $250,000 cash bond, appeared Wednesday for an arraignment hearing at the Marathon County Courthouse, where he entered a not guilty plea. A bond modification hearing is set for June 24.