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Former Fort Drum soldier pleads guilty to manslaughter in infant’s death

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CANTON — A former Fort Drum soldier will spend two decades in prison for killing his ex-fiancee’s infant last summer, under a plea agreement he accepted Tuesday in St. Lawrence County Court.

Gary L. McKenzie II, 22, of 154 Hailesboro St., Apt. 26, Gouverneur, pleaded guilty to one count of first-degree manslaughter, a class B violent felony, in the death of 7-month-old Braylin W. Chambers on July 16.

The plea satisfied all charges against him. He will be sentenced Aug. 11 to a determinate 21 years in prison.

McKenzie originally was charged with second-degree murder, second-degree manslaughter, reckless assault of a child and third-degree criminal possession of a weapon, all felonies, and misdemeanor endangering the welfare of a child.

Following the plea, County Judge Jerome J. Richards placed McKenzie under oath and asked him to confirm the events that led to the baby’s death.

McKenzie stood beside his attorney, Public Defender Stephen D. Button, his head hanging as his hands gripped the back of the chair in front of him, and listened to the details.

“You were baby-sitting Braylin Chambers and became frustrated with the child?” Judge Richards asked. “And as a result you threw the child in a bouncy seat where then the child struck his head against a wall, recklessly causing his death?”

McKenzie repeated, “Yes, your honor,” with long pauses before his responses.

The impact, which occurred at 1:39 that morning in the Hailesboro Street apartment that McKenzie shared with the baby’s mother, Savanna Goble, caused an inoperable brain injury and hemorrhaging that resulted in the baby’s death later that day.

Mr. Button said that although his client had avoided trial and a possible life sentence, he was not pleased with the outcome of the case.

“How can you be pleased with a situation in which an individual is dead and another, a soldier, is going to be incarcerated for a long period of time?” Mr. Button said. “This was severely difficult for the victim’s family, my client and my client’s family. It’s a sad day for everyone involved.”

District Attorney Mary E. Rain said the reduction from a murder charge to a manslaughter charge as a part of the plea deal would guarantee that he is held responsible for the child’s death.

“With any case where there is a trial, a jury can be fickle,” Ms. Rain said. “Here you have surety. He is receiving almost what he would have received if he was convicted of second-degree murder.”

Judge Richards previously denied two motions requesting to have the murder charges against McKenzie dismissed. In both denials, the judge wrote there was evidence that was “legally sufficient to support each of the charged crimes,” specifically the murder charge.

If convicted of the original murder charge, McKenzie would have faced a minimum sentence of 15 years to life or a maximum of 25 years to life.

The district attorney said McKenzie “had a history” that showed a pattern of violent behavior.

Ms. Rain said that during the investigation officials learned McKenzie previously had attempted to assault his biological child, and when the child’s mother tried to stop him, McKenzie bit her.

“There were also bite marks found on Braylin,” Ms. Rain said. “He had been in counseling for anxiety issues sometime in May 2013, and before, while he was in the military.”

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