LURAY — Page County’s second-longest jury trial in nearly a decade came to a close on Friday with the jury recommending that the defendant serve 35 years for felony murder and child abuse.
Following a nine-day trial, which officially got underway in Page County Circuit Court on Sept. 8 after a full day of motions during pretrial proceedings on Sept. 7, a jury recommended that Ian Alexander Zimmerman, 24, of Elkton, serve 25 years for the felony murder of a 10-month-old and 10 years for abuse that led to the child’s death.
Zimmerman, who was residing in Luray with the child’s mother during the time of the offenses, was indicted by a Page County grand jury in August 2020. A jury trial was originally scheduled to begin in February 2021 but was postponed several times due to the coronavirus crisis.
Charges stem from the morning of Nov. 20, 2019, when Zimmerman was caring for his girlfriend’s 10-month-old son at a residence on North Hawksbill Street in Luray while she was in Harrisonburg for a job interview. According to a criminal complaint, Zimmerman told police that while he was changing the child’s diaper on a couch in the living room he left the room for 10 to 20 seconds and returned to find the child crying and lying face down on the floor.
Zimmerman told police that the child became unresponsive about 15 to 20 minutes later, at which point he picked the child up and shook him “in an effort to get a response,” but the child remained unresponsive and his body “became limp.”
Zimmerman did not call 911 for emergency medical services. Instead, Zimmerman went to a neighbor’s house to use their cellphone and called the child’s mother, who instructed him to call 911 “at least two times.”
Zimmerman did not call 911 and returned to his residence. When the child’s mother arrived about 25 to 30 minutes later, “she discovered the child laying on a couch unresponsive, limp and having a blank stare,” according to the criminal complaint. She then took the child to Page Memorial Hospital, where he was airlifted to the University of Virginia Medical Center in Charlottesville.
The 10-month-old died two days later on Nov. 22, 2019. A Nov. 25, 2019, autopsy concluded that the child’s death was a result of a brain and spinal cord injury “consistent with Shaken Impact Syndrome,” according to court records.
During the trial, Page County Commonwealth’s Attorney Ken Alger argued that Zimmerman intentionally abused the child and that injuries sustained during the course of that abuse led to the child’s death. The prosecution called more than a dozen medical professionals to testify, including the child’s physicians at U.Va. Medical Center, medical examiners, pediatric and neurosurgeons, an ophthalmologist, the child’s pediatrician and child abuse experts.
Experts testified that the victim’s extensive injuries were not accidental, but due to intentionally inflicted trauma. The child sustained more than two dozen injuries, said Alger, including bleeding of the brain, eyes and spinal cord, swelling of the brain, detached retinas and dozens of contusions on his face and body.
One doctor called by the prosecution testified that about 90% of the child’s brain was affected by injuries. A medical examiner testified that retinal hemorrhaging he observed in the child was the worst he’d seen during his career.
The defense called two experts who testified that the child’s injuries were due to natural causes — possibly a stroke, pneumonia or falling from the 17-inch-tall seat of the couch.
Alger argued that Zimmerman failed to call 911, even when his girlfriend instructed him to, in order to buy time while he came up with an explanation for the child’s injuries, which included patterned bruises consistent with the shape of a hand. The prosecution additionally argued that Zimmerman downplayed the extent of the child’s injuries to both his neighbor and the child’s mother.
On Friday the jury deliberated for about four hours before finding Zimmerman guilty of felony murder and child abuse.
Alger said on Monday that he argued for a “harsh sentence” due to the extensive injuries sustained by the child and that the Page County Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office spent about 600 hours over the course of 12 weeks preparing for the trial. The jury trial marked the second-longest during Alger’s tenure as Page County commonwealth’s attorney since he took office in January 2012.
Zimmerman is scheduled to be sentenced in Page County Circuit Court by Judge Clark Ritchie at 2 p.m. on Dec. 15.