Man pleads guilty to manslaughter for Athol boy's 2013 death

  • Isaiah Buckner, 10, died in 2013 from severe injuries to his abdomen that occurred while he was with his mother's boyfriend at the time, Christopher Vinsant. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 4/19/2019 11:38:45 AM
Modified: 4/19/2019 11:38:33 AM

GREENFIELD — Isaiah Buckner would be 16 years old today.

Nearly six years after the 10-year-old boy from Athol died July 10, 2013, due to severe injuries to his abdomen and internal organs, Christopher Vinsant, 33, pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter in Franklin County Superior Court Thursday.

Vinsant had accepted a plea deal with the Northwestern district attorney’s office that he would plead guilty to the charge of involuntary manslaughter, in exchange for the DA dropping the charge of murder.

He was sentenced to eight to 10 years in prison at the Massachusetts Correctional Institute-Cedar Junction in Walpole, with 742 days credit for time already served.

“(Isaiah) was taken from me by a person I trusted, a person who I thought he could be safe with, someone who I thought loved him,” said the boy’s mother, Renee Buckner, in court Thursday.

Isaiah, an autistic deaf child, legally blind since age 3, was with Vinsant — his mother’s boyfriend — on the night of July 7, 2013. Family and friends told police the child was eating healthily and in good spirits that night.

Vinsant was the primary caretaker of the boy, called Isaiah his son, and often had the child sleep with him in the same bed.

Sometime between 1 and 2 a.m. on July 8, 2013, according to Vinsant, the child became sick and vomited. The child’s condition deteriorated, but Vinsant initially did not call 911 or take him anywhere, and had someone over to the house to purchase drugs.

The next morning, according to Vinsant, the child stumbled into the room where he was, made the sign for needing to “poop,” and collapsed. Vinsant then called an ambulance, saying Isaiah collapsed but did not tell the dispatcher that the child was not breathing, which would have elevated the emergency response.

The response was finally elevated when EMTs arrived and found Isaiah unresponsive. Responders were able to get a pulse on the boy, and Isaiah was ultimately airlifted to UMass Memorial Medical Center in Worcester, where he was pronounced dead two days later.

According to the DA’s office, doctors and investigators found several things suspicious about the death. Vinsant said the boy had fallen earlier on July 7, and that’s maybe how he injured his abdomen.

However, doctors found that “part of (Isaiah’s) small intestine” was completely severed, said Linda Pisano, chief of the DA’s Child Abuse Unit. Such an injury would have given Isaiah immediate and severe pain, would have affected the boy’s gait and caused him to throw up or have diarrhea.

Vinsant’s initial claim, that the injury happened before the boy ate a hearty dinner and was seen perfectly fine before bedtime, would have been medically impossible, doctors said. Video surveillance footage could also not confirm Vinsant’s story of a fall.

“The last hours of (Isaiah’s) life would have been obviously excruciating,” Pisano said.

Vinsant was not arrested until nearly four years after the boy’s death. The pediatric surgeon who operated on Isaiah said he had a “transected jejunum,” a rare injury that typically results from serious trauma like an auto accident or a fall from several stories, as well as intentionally inflicted blunt-force trauma.

The “manner” of death was never determined by the Medical Examiner’s Office, but a doctor from New Hampshire’s Medical Examiner’s Office, brought in for a separate opinion, reviewed Isaiah’s medical records and determined the death was a homicide.

The plea deal between the prosecution and defense acknowledged the following as facts: there was a “special relationship” between the defendant and Isaiah, the defendant purposely failed to get medical help for Isaiah, the defendant’s failure to get help was “wanton and reckless.”

The defense, led by attorney Mary Ann Stamm, told Judge John Agostini on Thursday that Vinsant’s heavy drug usage prevented him from properly caring for the boy and calling for help. Stamm said that Vinsant had been sober for several years before he was arrested, had steady employment as manager of a Cumberland Farms store and has remained sober due to being in the court system.

“It was clearly devastating,” said Agostini. “There’s been no finding of malice or intent, it was just reckless conduct.”

In her victim’s impact statement Thursday, Isaia’s mother said, “The joy of my life is gone.”

“I wonder what kind of girlfriend he would have had, or what he would looked like getting ready for the prom,” Buckner said in court.

Buckner said in a phone interview the day before the guilty plea that she had mixed feelings about the deal.

“Why would you plead guilty to something you wouldn’t do?” she said.

Buckner said no amount of time in prison would ever be justice for Isaiah, but that she is relieved the six-year legal process is over, and that Vinsant has pleaded guilty, even if it is to manslaughter rather than murder.

“It’s been a complicated six years of waiting, wondering what happened,” Buckner said. “The only one who knows is my son, and he can’t speak for himself.”

“There was a chance (Vinsant) could walk, and I just couldn’t handle that,” she added. “My feelings are very mixed, but I’m glad he’s pleading guilty.”

Buckner said, “It’s all the littlest things,” she remembers about her son — his smile, his hyperactive but social personality. She said Isaiah would never get angry, and the boy — who attended Austine School for the Deaf in Brattleboro — would give everyone hugs. Buckner added that Isaiah probably would have thought he did something wrong if someone hit him, rather than getting angry at the offender.

“Isaiah was a lot like me. My son was the most forgiving kid, and he would’ve been sorry like he did something wrong, and I want him to know he didn’t,” Buckner said. “He was growing into a very good young man. He was my only one. That’s the only child I wanted.”

Reach David McLellan at or 413-772-0261, ext. 268.

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