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Teen sentenced for killing 21-month-old cousin

A 16-year-old boy who killed his 21-month-old cousin will spend several years in a juvenile detention facility, after his sentencing Wednesday in juvenile court.

The boy, who isn't being named because he's a minor, was sentenced to life, plus two years and four months, in Merced County Juvenile Court for the death of King Steven McCowan, according to Deputy District Attorney Mark Bacciarini.

Because the defendant wasn't tried as an adult, the sentence means the teenager cannot be held in the state's Division of Juvenile Justice past age 25, Bacciarini said. He could also be paroled before he reaches that age.

Last month, the teenager admitted to a charge of committing an assault resulting in the death of a child. Had he been tried as an adult, he could have faced life in an adult prison.

"It's an absolutely tragic case that I think in a lot of ways was totally preventable," Bacciarini said.

Bacciarini repeated Thursday that the District Attorney's Office didn't pursue murder charges because proving intent to kill, required for a murder charge, would have been hard. "I don't think on the facts, we could prove premeditation," Bacciarini said.

Caleb Hegland, the teenager's attorney, couldn't be reached by the Sun-Star's deadline Thursday. Hegland said last month that although his client never intended to kill the baby, he did admit to hitting the child with a belt. He said the teenager had been hit with a belt when he was younger, as a form of discipline.

Hegland said his 16-year-old client was remorseful about the baby's death, and carries scars from being hit with a belt himself.

The baby and his 4-year-old brother had been left in the care of the teenager for five days in August by their mother, 26-year-old Laquisha Yvette McCowan, according to police.

McCowan had gone to the Bay Area, leaving the two children with the teenager, police said. Although McCowan returned home briefly and checked on the children, police said she then returned to the Bay Area. The mother eventually returned home after being called by her family members.

The teenager had tried to wake the toddler in the morning for breakfast, but the baby wouldn't wake up, police said. He went across the street to get help from neighbors. Police said the neighbors entered the home, saw the dead baby and called authorities.

The teenager told police that he had "whupped" both the baby and 4-year-old brother with a belt the previous night. Some of the wounds on the baby's body were fresh, while others appeared to be days old, police said.

Reporter Victor A. Patton can be reached at (209) 385-2431 or