Teen Babysitter Sentenced to 20 Years for Beating Death of Toddler

Devon Vanderwege pleaded guilty to manslaughter earlier this year


Buffalo, NY (WBEN) - Devon Vanderwege has been sentenced to 20 years in prison for first degree manslaughter after admitting to the beating death of 2 year old Ethan Bigham while in his care.

Earlier this year, Vanderwege admitted to beating Bigham to death last March, while staying at the family's trailer home in Marilla and tasked with babysitting the child. Vanderwege was 17 at the time of the incident.

20 years was the maximum allowed sentence as agreed to in Vanderwege's plea deal. 

Before the judge handed down his sentence, Vanderwege wrote a letter to the court begging forgiveness. 

"There's no amount of words I can say," Vanderwege wrote. "I truly hate myself for the lack of control I showed."

Authorities say the toddler was severely beaten on March 10 of 2017 and taken off life support at a Buffalo hospital the next day.

Watch the apology and sentencing:

Erie County DA John Flynn reacts:

While he said he would have preferred to prosecute Vanderwege on a more serious murder charge, Erie County District Attorney John Flynn explained earlier this year that there were two complicating factors that made that more difficult: Bigham's mother Heather Schoepflin did not seek treatment for the child until the next day, and her boyfriend Ian Hart was home at the time of the beating.

"You can question her behavior and I certainly will," Flynn said, declining to elaborate on charges the mother may still face.

Flynn says while there was no evidence against the boyfriend, a defense attorney would be able to plant doubt that perhaps Vanderwege was covering for him. It is something that Schoepflin, who Flynn says could still face charges herself, put forth speaking informally to reporters before the plea was entered. Flynn said he has no evidence to support that.

"I'm disappointed, obviously", said defense attorney Kevin Spitler following the sentence.  Spitler says there was an agreement in place that if youthful offender status had not been granted, the sentence would be in the 10 to 20 year range and the judge opted for the maximum end of that.  If Vanderwege had been granted youthful offender status, the maximum prison sentence would have been four years.  "I'm disappointed", sayys Spitler.  "I look at him as a young man who was put in a bad situation for any number of reasons and he now is going to spend a good portion of his adolescent years in a prison system that....I don't think it's a good thing", Spitler stated. 

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