By Shereen Siewert
A Wausau father now faces life in prison for intentionally causing the death of his infant son, after he was convicted by a jury this week.
Initially, 41-year-old Ronnie Lofton, Jr. faced only charges of first-degree reckless homicide. The charge was filed Feb. 12, 2021, roughly one month after his infant son died. Police say the boy had 21 rib fractures in various stages of healing when he died of blunt force trauma in January 2021.
The original charge was upgraded to first-degree intentional homicide months later. Wisconsin law considers deaths to be the result of first degree intentional homicide when a person causes another person’s death on purpose.
After more than a week of testimony, jurors deliberated for less than three hours before finding Lofton guilty of homicide and bail jumping. The homicide charge alone carries a mandatory life sentence, though judges in Wisconsin have discretion to allow for extended supervision after a convicted murderer spends at least 20 years behind bars. That decision is made at sentencing.
Police say they were notified on a late Saturday in January 2021 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 five days later.
Autopsy results pinpointed the cause of death, 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.
Jurors heard testimony from medical experts and investigators over the course of the trial, which began Jan. 18 and concluded on Thursday.
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. Three months before his son’s death, he was charged in Marathon County Circuit Court with battery, disorderly conduct-domestic abuse and resisting or obstructing an officer. He was free on bond when his 3-month-old child died.
Lofton posted statements to Facebook protesting his treatment by the court system and maintained his innocence throughout the trial. But jurors were not persuaded. Circuit Judge Greg Strasser on Thursday ordered a presentencing investigation be completed prior to determining Lofton’s fate, with a scheduling conference for sentencing set for Feb. 1. The investigation is due to be completed within 45 days.
Lofton remains behind bars.