Former NSA official gets 12 years in death of adopted son
By DAN MORSE | The Washington Post | Published: July 20, 2016
A former division chief for the National Security Agency, who admitted that he hurled his 3-year-old adopted son against a wall in his Maryland home, was sentenced to 12 years in prison Tuesday for the boy’s death.
"I killed my son," Brian O’Callaghan, 38, said in Montgomery County Circuit Court. "He’s gone. A defenseless little boy that I loved is gone."
Prosecutors argued the abuse lasted longer than the single outburst.
"This child was beaten to death," said Assistant State’s Attorney Donna Fenton, who had asked for a 40-year sentence.
Much of the six-hour hearing dealt with O’Callaghan’s mental state. He had served tours in Kosovo and Iraq as a Marine, saw the dead bodies of children, and was later diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, testimony showed. His attorney, Steven McCool, described that history as a mitigating factor in the crime.
As attorneys delved into his medical records at the hearing, it became clear O’Callaghan had hid his illness from an adoption agency as he and his wife sought to bring a child to the United States from South Korea. They already had another child at home.
At one point, according to records in the case, a counselor from the Department of Veterans Affairs advised O’Callaghan on how to taper his dosage of psychotropic medications so he could pass a drug screening required in the adoption process.
"I have to say that I am appalled at the treatment" through VA, Judge John Debelius said.
Debelius agreed that combat had lingering impact on O’Callaghan saying, "All of this took its toll" and "set you up to make an incredibly horrible choice."
Debelius said that whether O’Callaghan abused the child in one, single terrible episode, or beat him 12 times, was a distinction that mattered less to him than the final outcome. "I can’t parse it out," Debelius said. "It was horrible. It was absolutely horrible."
The judge said he could not imagine what the boy - a special-needs child the couple named Madoc - went through in his final moments. "It is unfathomable. We’ll never know," Debelius said.
But in handing down his sentence, Debelius said the killing was not premeditated.
Madoc died in 2014 about three months after arriving from South Korea. O’Callaghan and his older son were at home when the fatal injuries occurred. His wife was out of town.
Fenton, the prosecutor, said after the lethal injuries, it took O’Callaghan at least four hours to take Madoc to a hospital. During that time, his older son entered a room and saw his younger brother lying on the floor, which he thought was unusual, but left the room, prosecutors said.
The three of them later went to an emergency room in Germantown.
Fenton said that O’Callaghan seemed overly casually in the hospital, based in part of video surveillance that showed him wearing a baseball cap and carrying Madoc over his shoulder as if he were asleep.
O’Callaghan began talking to a hospital employee but it was only after that person reached over and touched Madoc - whose was in full cardiac arrest with a temperature of 91 degrees - that the hospital realized the urgency of the situation.
Madoc was soon transferred to Children’s National Medical Center, where he died three days after being taken off life support, according to prosectors.
"We know that he has PTSD," Fenton said of O’Callaghan. "None of that is an excuse for what happened to little Madoc O’Callaghan."
Supporters of O’Callaghan, including family members, came to the hearing. Several co-workers and friends spoke about how he was a responsible, talented person - and their shock about what had happened.
"This isn’t a family that was doomed to failure," McCool said.
But the stress disorder, along with traumatic brain injuries, "contributed to Mr. O’Callaghan taking the life of his son," McCool had written in documents filed ahead of the hearing.
In prosecutors’ filings, Fenton and Assistant State’s Attorney Sherri Koch said Madoc was repeatedly beaten.
An autopsy showed "that Madoc suffered a constellation of injury from head to foot. Officials who did the autopsy concluded Madoc died of numerous blunt force trauma which was a homicide," prosecutors wrote.
O’Callaghan and his wife, Jennifer, worked through Catholic Charities to qualify to adopt a child with special needs - which is how they adopted the boy from Korea. The family called him Madoc, an Irish addition to his name.