‘Like he was in a car wreck’: Medical expert describes injuries of 4-year-old beaten to death

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NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — The case of a man charged in the beating death of his 4-year-old son will go to the grand jury.

Hank Smith’s son Larkin Carr died of blunt force trauma to the abdomen in November 2018.

Prosecutors say 15-year-old Robert Bolsinger-Hartshorn beat Larkin to death, and Smith did nothing to stop it.

Bolsinger-Hartshorn is charged with second-degree murder in the case. He faces up to 40 years in prison if convicted. Smith is charged with felony homicide.

Catherine Seals, the mother of Bolsinger-Hartshorn, pleaded guilty to felony homicide and felony child abuse with serious injury back in November.

Both the prosecution and defense stipulated Wednesday that Larkin’s death was caused by Hartshorn, although that doesn’t mean Hartshorn has been convicted. The issue for Smith is how much he knew of the abuse his son was suffering at the home Smith and Seals shared on Sangamon Avenue, especially during the weekend prior to his death.

Called as an expert witness Wednesday, doctor Michelle Clayton described in gruesome detail the many injuries suffered by Larkin Carr prior to his death.

Clayton directs the Child Abuse Program at Children’s Hospital of the King’s Daughters, and attended the boy’s autopsy.

“The question is, what did my client see on Friday when he bathed the child?” said defense attorney Kristin Paulding. “Did he know that that extent of bruising was there? And I think that’s going to be a big issue for the trial.”

Clayton itemized an estimated 100 bruises on Larkin’s body, including his scalp, face, neck, chest, stomach, abdominal area and thighs. She testified that many of the bruises showed patterns consistent with punching, grabbing and hitting.

Clayton said Larkin’s abdominal area was subject to repeated, massive blunt force trauma consistent with kicking and/or punching. She said those injuries were typical of what she sees in children who’ve been in vehicle crashes.

“This is a really unfortunate circumstance that almost no one could predict — that one child would be so hurtful to another child to kill them in this fashion,” Paulding said.

Police say Hartshorn admitted in an interview to abusing Larkin as a form of discipline. Detective Matthew Norden said Smith’s account of what he knew about the abuse changed over a series of four interviews beginning the evening of Larkin’s death. According to Norden, Smith did not believe his own son when he told him “Robbie hit me.”

Norden testified that when he examined Smith’s phone, it contained pictures of Larkin and his younger brother Tyler with bruises, and those images were taken before Larkin’s death. Larkin, Tyler, Smith, Seals, Harthorn and a 9-month-old baby were all part of the Sangamon household.

Paulding pointed out that Smith would be gone from the home for extended periods for work, including three to four weeks prior to the weekend leading up to Larkin’s death. On that day, according to Paulding, Smith had been at work until late that afternoon, while Seals was home throughout the day.

Smith and Seals were gone from the home that evening, taking her daughter home who lived elsewhere. They had left Larkin and Tyler in the care of Hartshorn. He called them that evening to say that Larkin was unresponsive. He was dead on arrival at CHKD about 7:30 p.m. that evening.

Police believe that Hartshorn was also responsible when Larkin was taken to Depaul Medical Center in September 2018 with injuries consistent with being choked.

Paulding says the murder charge against Smith is inappropriate.

“At the end of the day, the child is dead because of (Hartshorn), and I believe that he should be the only one with a murder charge, but then we also know that Miss Seals has pleaded guilty.”

Seals pleaded guilty to felony homicide with an agreement that her sentence be no greater than 21 years and six months.

Clayton said the amount of internal bleeding present at Larkin’s autopsy was “highly abnormal,” and possibly resulted from repetitive kicks or punches.

She said Larkin had lost 20 percent of his body weight in his final two months and she had a “high level of concern for nutritional neglect.” She said Larkin weighed 28 pounds at death, putting him in the 0 percentile for body weight for a four-year-old boy.

You can follow Chris Horne on Twitter: https://twitter.com/ChrisHorneWAVY

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