West Virginia mother gets life term for drowning son

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Dominic Netti had no relationship to 2-year-old Steven Flanagan. The California man just happened to be staying down the hall in the same Green Tree hotel as the little boy and his mom from West Virginia in early July 2012.

But, Mr. Netti was also the first man who finally entered the room registered to Sharon Flanagan after the woman had run crazily through the hotel shouting about her baby and that she needed help. He was the man who lifted the lifeless body of the boy out of the bathtub and attempted to save him by performing CPR.

"The terror and shear confusion that Sharon created in the hotel hallway, and the absolutely nightmarish scene of that little boy, laying facedown alone in that bathtub ... the look of disbelief that was frozen on his little face, with his eyes wide open and glazed over ..." Mr. Netti wrote in his victim impact statement. "Had his mother said that the boy was in trouble, we would have broken the door down. I could have smashed down 10 doors with the adrenaline I had surging through my body at the time, but, astonishingly, she didn't give us the chance.

Woman gets life sentence for drowning toddler son

Sharon Flanagan, a West Virginia woman, gets life sentence for drowning toddler soni n a motel bathtub because her ex got 70 percent custody of the child. (Video by Nate Guidry;12/09/2013)

"It is something we all still struggle with and will carry with us the rest of our lives."

His was one of three statements read Monday to Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge Jeffrey A. Manning at Flanagan's sentencing.

Flanagan was found guilty in September of first-degree murder for the drowning death of her son and was sentenced to a mandatory prison term of life with no chance for parole.

Flanagan, who appeared to be gaunt and was dressed in a royal blue sweater, said nothing.

When asked if she would like to speak or understood her appeal rights, she only shook her head "no" and nodded "yes," even when it was clear verbal answers were necessary for the court record.

Finally she said to Judge Manning "If you need me to say the word 'no,' no."

Steven Flanagan, who was 2 years and 3 months old, died five days after his mother drowned him at the former Best Western Parkway Center Inn in Green Tree the evening of July 1, 2012, according to police.

Flanagan testified on her own behalf and told the jury she had put her son in the bathtub that evening in about a foot of water so he could play. She said she became lost in thought and didn't realize her son was in trouble in the water.

Mr. Netti and others at trial said that Flanagan fled her hotel room, and went running through the halls, clutching her abdomen and shouting, "My baby, my baby."

By the time it became clear that her son was in her hotel room, and Mr. Netti and a security guard made their way inside, it was too late.

In his letter read at the sentencing, Mr. Netti said that he has had to be treated for post-traumatic stress disorder, and his girlfriend who was with him also has undergone counseling.

For the boy's father, also Steven Flanagan, the impact of his son's death has touched every part of his life.

As he spoke to the court, Mr. Flanagan held a large portrait of his son, dressed for Halloween in a brown and white puppy costume.

He called the boy "a miracle baby," conceived after two earlier miscarriages.

"He was so precious and lovable that everyone both felt and treated him as their own."

Mr. Flanagan described Steven as vibrant and happy, very strong for his age, a great climber and "a little hugger."

He told the court he could not understand what drove his wife to kill their son.

"We were as close as close could be. Our home was a true place of happiness. There was no cursing, no hatred, no bitterness, no hitting and no mistreatment of any kind," he said.

Since his son's death, Mr. Flanagan said his mental, spiritual and physical health have suffered greatly.

Later, Mr. Flanagan said, "If it wasn't for the Lord above and for people, I don't think I would ever have made it."

He called it a "privilege" to speak for his son.

When asked his feelings toward the defendant, he said, "I'm not going to be ugly or nasty, even though I'd have every right to do so."

Instead, he continued: "All I can truly say about it is why? There was no cause for it from start to finish."

Defense attorney Blaine Jones offered no witnesses on Sharon Flanagan's behalf but said afterward, "It was an emotionally draining trial, and this was an emotionally draining event, as well. There simply are no winners in this, and it was a very difficult case."

Paula Reed Ward: pward@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2620. First Published December 9, 2013 12:13 PM

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