Man convicted of murder gets 15-to-life

Tribune Chronicle / Guy Vogrin Arthur Harper watches video evidence last month during his murder trial in Trumbull County Common Pleas Court. He was sentenced Monday to 15 years to life in prison in the death of Russell Cottrill, 3, of Warren.

WARREN — The man convicted last month of murdering the 3-year-old boy he was baby-sitting was sentenced Monday to 15 years to life in prison

Arthur Harper, 44, appeared before Trumbull County Common Pleas Court Judge Peter J. Kontos, who gave the defendant the maximum sentence, which gives Harper a chance for parole after 15 years.

Harper was accused of using a wrestling move that caused the death of 3-year-old Russell Cottrill in November 2015 when he was living with the boy and his mother at a High Street NE home. The mother of the victim, Judith Owens, gave a tearful victim’s impact statement, saying this was the second child she has lost.

“I am asking you to give the maximum to this man,” Owens told the judge. “It is not right for any parent to bury their children.”

On Aug. 30, a jury deliberated about an hour before finding Harper guilty after a three-day trial in Kontos’ court.

Trial testimony showed Harper and Owens moved in together after the two had met earlier that year in an Internet encounter. Kontos, in citing Harper’s criminal record that included robbery and domestic violence convictions in New York, said the case is a sad lesson on what can go wrong when people use the Internet in search of romance.

The judge said what happened to the boy was no accident. Testimony showed Harper called 911 on Nov. 28 to say the boy was unresponsive after falling out of bed. Cottrill died two days later at a Cleveland hospital.

Two days after his death, Harper changed his story, telling police detectives he injured Russell when he used a professional wrestling move called a “piledriver” several times on him.

A medical examiner testified the boy received three severe blows, including one to the top of the skull that drove into his spinal cord, causing nerve damage.

Harper, who stood by his attorney, John Juhasz, refused to make a statement before sentencing. Juhasz said he intends to file a notice of appeal.