How do you tell a boy his father is dying, or that he may already be dead?
Administrators with the Indiana School for the Deaf in Indianapolis plucked 15-year-old Christian Deaton out of school one day last summer, but all they told him was that his family needed him back in Fort Wayne.
They didn’t say why.
Once in town, Deaton ended up outside a hospital, but nobody told him why, of all the places, they took him there. He went to a room where members of his family were crying and hugging each other, but still nobody said what was wrong.
And then he saw his father lying on a table.
Someone had taken a baseball bat to Christopher Robert Deaton’s head – not once or twice, but four or five times. That someone was sentenced to 95 years in prison – the maximum sentence for murder, plus extra time for past crimes.
Like his son, Deaton was also deaf and couldn’t speak. The attack that ended his life came from behind while he and his friends watched basketball in his home.
The 39-year-old languished in the hospital for four days before he died.
Monday, Christian sat in an Allen Superior courtroom and used sign language to describe that day and what the man he saw lying in the hospital meant to him, as well as everyone else in his life.
My family misses my dad, Christian said. He was a good man. He was always in my life. He always came to see me.
Not more than 20 feet away sat the man who put his father on that table in the hospital.
Anger in court
Before Manuel Joseph Silva learned the extent of his prison sentence for killing Christopher Deaton, the 46-year-old spoke in court.
He quietly apologized, said he hoped Deaton’s family didn’t hate him and told the judge he was taking substance abuse and anger management classes at the Allen County Jail.
Then he listened as Deaton’s family spoke from the prosecutor’s table:
Put this monster away forever, said Deaton’s mother, Teresa Tinsley.
I want you to remember for eternity what you did to my brother, said Misty Goings, Deaton’s sister.
I forgive you but I don’t want you in hell because you’d enjoy it too much, said Malinda Tinsley, another of Deaton’s sisters, who also threatened to haunt Silva in the middle world after his death.
You’re a (expletive) coward, said a man who identified himself only as Kevin, a cousin of Deaton.
On May 24, Silva parked his car down the street from Deaton’s Bass Road home before he, his daughter, her mother and two other men went to the front door.
Silva’s 19-year-old daughter told him Deaton made unwanted sexual advances toward her previously, which is something a friend of both disputed during testimony at Silva’s trial last month.
Once inside the home, Silva struck Deaton in the back of the head with a bat while he watched an NBA basketball game with friends.
The two men with Silva corralled everyone else into the kitchen while Silva continued to strike Deaton, according to court testimony. Prosecutors have not charged anyone else in the killing.
That version of events is something Silva has never disputed, but his defense of his actions changed during his interview with police and then again during his trial, where a jury found him guilty of murder.
At first, Silva said he went to the home to protect his daughter and acted in self-defense. During his trial, he testified that he was drunk.
Allen County prosecutors poked holes in both defenses, as did Judge John F. Surbeck when he spoke to Silva on Monday before his sentencing.
There was no need to defend (your daughter) because she was already with you, said Surbeck, who called the killing one of the most brutal he had seen. You’re simply grasping at straws to defend your brutality.
Surbeck gave Silva the maximum for murder – 65 years in prison. He then tacked on another 30 years because of Silva’s past, which includes convictions for battery, sexual misconduct with a minor and neglect of a dependent, all of which brands him a habitual offender.
Silva, who tips the scales at nearly 300 pounds, sports a shaved head, small glasses and a tattoo of his name in Old English lettering down the back of his forearm, sat in shackles during Monday’s hearing.
Upon being called a coward by Deaton’s cousin – the fourth or fifth person to do so during the hearing – he became upset. His jaw clenched, and he began making hand motions toward Deaton’s family, along with a few choice words.
An Allen County Sheriff’s officer had to tell him to be quiet and cool down.
You see him in there? said one of Deaton’s family members outside the courtroom when it was all over. He’s not sorry. He was talking the whole time.
‘Doing a lot better’
Christian Deaton, with a head full of curly hair and the lanky body of a basketball player draped in a Fort Wayne Mad Ants T-shirt and athletic shorts, loved the media attention.
He and his family walked out of the courtroom hugging and crying, this time with relief and some joy as opposed to how they cried in the hospital room last summer. Upon hearing the sentence they applauded.
But then they answered questions, including time in front of television cameras. People with notebooks and recorders wanted to hear their story, their reaction to all the emotions that flowed out in the courtroom.
It’s great, said Teresa Tinsley. He got what he deserved.
They all agreed it had been a roller coaster ride, and Christian Deaton used sign language to express that he felt good it was over.
For Sirena Rodriguez, Christopher Deaton’s step-daughter and the sign language interpreter for Christian, it was almost too much.
This was really hard, she said.
We stayed up all night going through what he wanted to say in there. I don’t think he said everything he wanted.
Rodriguez, like the rest of the family, was glad everything was done, but she wanted no part of the media attention – despite Christian’s efforts to pull her in.
There’s no way. I already told him, she laughed.
But she watched and smiled as Christian soaked up the few minutes of attention with excitement. He had come a long way since that day in the summer when he saw his father lying on a hospital table.
He’s doing a lot better than a lot of us are, Rodriguez said.