While he sat in jail, there were times Ashley Mendez put the father of her daughter on speaker phone so the girl could at least hear his voice.
She now asks about her father every day, Mendez said.
That’s why Mendez stood up in Allen Superior Court on Friday and asked a judge to be lenient with Arriaga Walker, 33, a man accused of causing injuries to that same little girl on multiple occasions.
“I know how it is not to have a father,” Mendez said.
But there was little lenience to give, not to a man who admitted to felony counts of neglect of a dependent and criminal recklessness in causing his daughter bleeding on her brain and scalding burns to her body.
Walker was sentenced to eight years in prison for those crimes Friday, the maximum amount of time called for in a plea agreement he made with Allen County prosecutors.
“I love my daughter with all my heart,” Walker told Judge Fran Gull before she sentenced him. “She’s the most important thing in the world to me.”
Walker came under the eye of investigators in August 2011, when Mendez came home to the couple’s then 4-month-old daughter crying badly.
The couple took the girl to a hospital, where a scan revealed the child had new and old bleeding on her brain, according to Allen Superior Court documents.
At the time, Walker told investigators the girl had fallen out of a baby tub during her bath, but that he did not hear her hit her head, those documents said.
Friday, a doctor who examined the child testified in court that there was so much hemorrhaging behind the girl’s eyes that her injuries likely came from “violent shaking.”
While the investigation into those injuries was still underway, Walker was allowed to visit his child only with Mendez present, according to court testimony.
That April, Mendez fell asleep during one of those visits.
Soon thereafter, Walker called police himself saying that his daughter, then about a year old, had been burned while in the tub for a bath.
Walker claimed the girl had feces on her back and that he put her in the tub to clean her. When he ran water down her back, he noticed it begin to steam as the girl began to wince, according to court papers.
After putting the water on cold, he took a washcloth to her back. That’s when pieces of the girl’s skin began to come off, according court records.
To this day, the child, almost 2, still has some discoloration where she was burned, according to court testimony.
“Obviously this baby needed protection, and that was not provided by anyone in the household,” Allen County Deputy Prosecutor Patricia Pikel said during Friday’s hearing.
Randy Fisher, Walker’s attorney, asked Gull to sentence his client to six years in prison.
He said Walker’s rough childhood, which included physical and emotional abuse, and his need to be with his family, as mitigating factors.
“He’s expressed to me that he had a lack of parenting skills, and failed as a father to protect his child,” Fisher said.
Gull took the child’s injuries and Walker’s previous criminal past – which includes prison time for a reckless homicide conviction in Marion County – into account when deciding her sentence.
And despite Mendez’s testimony on his behalf, the thought Walker would someday have contact with his daughter again “frightened” Gull, she said.
“She should be looking at you right now as her hero,” Gull said while talking to Walker. “You are not her hero. You are her abuser.”