CANTON — A father who lost his son in a 2017 house fire was sentenced to weekends in jail Monday during an emotional hearing in St. Lawrence County Court.
Michael J. Riley, 31, cried as the tragic fire that killed his 5-year-old son was recounted at his sentencing hearing.
On Feb. 22, 2017, in the town of Massena, Riley violated a St. Lawrence County Family Court order involving his son, 5-year-old Aiden M. Riley, indicating that he not allow any third party to consume, or be under the influence of alcohol, illegal drugs, prescription drugs not prescribed to him by a physician, or marijuana in the child’s home or wherever the child is physically present, or within 48 hours prior to being in the child’s presence.
According to Aiden’s obituary, he was on an overnight visit with his father at the time of his death. Aiden and his mother, Jordan McGregor, were residents of 169 Fayette Road, Massena.
Sheriffs at the time of the fire said Aiden’s grandmother, Shari L. Caza, put him to bed on Feb. 22 in an upstairs bedroom at the Caza residence and locked the bedroom door from the outside. The door could not be opened from inside, police found.
At 9:56 p.m. first responders received a report of a structure fire with entrapment at the residence after a fire reportedly broke out in the upstairs hallway near the child’s bedroom shortly after he was put to bed.
Ms. Caza, 56, of 5779 Route 56, Apt. 1, pleaded guilty in County Court on July 24 to felony criminally negligent homicide and misdemeanor endangering the welfare of a child, in a plea deal with the district attorney’s office.
As part of the plea deal, Ms. Caza will be sentenced on Oct. 15 to six months in St. Lawrence County jail and five years of probation.
Judge Richards said the order of protection that Mr. Riley violated was put in place to protect his son, which included not to have alcohol, which he said Ms. Caza was consuming with a boyfriend and a friend who he called a “raging alcoholic.”
“It’s awful. It’s tragic that we have to be here for a sentencing on a misdemeanor offense and a rehashing of the loss of your son,” Judge Richards said.
Mr. Riley’s attorney, Richard V. Manning, said his client “turned his life around,” and was no longer the same person since the death of his son, in seeking that Mr. Riley get a sentence to straight probation with no jail time.
But Mr. Manning added that the district attorney’s office, “put him through this,” talking about his being indicted two years after the incident took place, saying that the DA’s office was looking for something to use against him, and that Mr. Riley was “not the sharpest tool in the shed,” and had made poor choices with his having previously been in trouble for misdemeanor criminal contempt charges.
Judge Jerome J. Richards was mystified.
“Putting him through this?” Judge Richards asked, his head cocked.
“I’m going to be blunt with you, Mr. Riley,” Judge Richards said. “If you had done what you were supposed to do and took care of your son, you wouldn’t be here and your son would be alive.”
Mr. Riley cried.
“I’m sorry for everything that’s happened. I feel terrible. It was a rough patch in both of our lives,” he said about the criminal contempt violations. “I have a lot of guilt and I take responsibility for it.”
Originally indicted with an additional felony count of aggravated family offense, Mr. Riley had that charge dismissed against him at the time of his plea at the request of the DA’s office because prosecutors were unable to prove the charge at trial, according to a motion filed with the court.
The jail sentence is to begin at 5 p.m. Friday and run through Monday at 7 a.m. and every weekend following until Sept. 30, 2020. He was also ordered to pay $250 in court fines, fees and surcharges.