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Man convicted of child abuse in baby’s death

Murder charge dropped in plea agreement

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A father accused of killing his four-month-old baby in 2017 recently pleaded guilty to a lesser charge in a deal with prosecutors.

Brian Buchanan, 32, was initially charged with first-degree murder and felony child abuse with serious physical injury in the February 2017 death of his son, Rylan.

Buchanan pleaded no contest to the felony child abuse charge and was sentenced to roughly three to four years in prison. He was also given credit for time served. A no-contest plea means the defendant accepts punishment but doesn’t admit guilt.

Rylan died two days after he was found unresponsive in this crib. The child’s state autopsy report concluded the infant was strangled with a ligature. Buchanan was married at the time to his wife, Sarah Galperin, who was also the infant’s mother. The incident happened at their Kimberly Drive home in Wilson.

THE CASE

Buchanan and his wife had been out late the night before the incident occurred at a Super Bowl party, according to an official transcript of the February hearing. Around 8:30 a.m. the following day — Feb. 6, 2017 — Buchanan went to check on his son who was crying, according to officials. Buchanan allegedly went to change the infant’s diaper.

Wilson County Assistant District Attorney Joel Stadiem told the court that Buchanan stayed in the child’s bedroom between 15 and 20 minutes and came back out. Rylan wasn’t crying anymore and Buchanan went outside to smoke, while Galperin stayed inside.

Galperin received a phone call that a mutual friend had just committed suicide, Stadiem said. After making several calls, Galperin’s friend showed up to the couple’s home. That’s when she went to check on her son in his bedroom and he was unconscious and not breathing, prosecutors said. 911 was immediately called. Galperin later told investigators that the last time she checked on her son was the night before where he appeared to be fine, according to prosecutors.

While Rylan was at the hospital, both medics and hospital personnel noticed marks on both sides of the infant’s neck, according to the transcript of the plea proceeding.

Stadiem told the court that while Buchanan was at Wilson Medical Center, he made comments that maybe the child’s bib was too tight or that he’d suffered from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.

Upon further pressure, prosecutors said, Buchanan told police his fire helmet fell off the wall and may have fallen on the baby.

THE DEFENSE

Buchanan’s defense attorney, Randy Hughes, told the court he wanted his client to go to trial because there were major inconsistencies in the case. He said Buchanan decided to take a plea deal because it was in his and his family’s best interests.

Hughes told the court Rylan was taken to the hospital because the infant was in distress. Officials were able to resuscitate Rylan prior to taking him to the hospital, according to Hughes.

“Once they got him to the hospital, that’s when the question started arising as far as some markings that were found,” Hughes said.

Hughes said when Rylan was transferred to Vidant Medical Center in Greenville, social services workers interviewed Galperin. She told Department of Social Services officials that she heard Rylan crying through the baby monitor and also heard Buchanan talking to his son as he was changing the baby’s diaper, Hughes said.

MAY 2018 JAIL VISIT

Hughes also pointed out a visit Galperin made to the Wilson County Detention Center in May 2018. She was there to talk to Buchanan’s grandmother, who was visiting Buchanan, about a sofa, he said.

While Galperin wanted to visit Buchanan, she wasn’t on his visitation list. That’s when Galperin left the jail and a few hours later headed to the Wilson Police Department and talked with investigators about the day her son was found unresponsive, Hughes said. In the interview with police, Galperin claimed Buchanan unplugged the baby monitor.

“Which totally, completely flies in the face of everything that she said Feb. 6, 2017 to the social worker at Vidant Medical Center,” Hughes told the court.

Hughes said Galperin also told police, which was documented in a video recording, that she wanted to take responsibility because she just wanted it to end. She wanted it to be over, Hughes said.

“There are so many inconsistencies that just don’t add up,” Hughes said. “And as I stated previously, being one of two adults in that room, if you did not do this, then you have to know who did.”

POLICE INTERVIEWS

Police interviewed Buchanan twice — on Feb. 7 and Feb. 10, 2017. Hughes said his client never said anything other than he did not do anything to harm his child.

Hughes said the helmet came up during the police interview after detectives repeatedly asked Buchanan if there was anything that was misplaced or wasn’t right in the child’s room.

That’s when Buchanan said he did notice that his helmet was in a laundry basket that was near the changing table. And police pressed him on whether there was a possibility that the helmet fell.

“Brian told them that he didn’t think so,” Hughes told the court. “He didn’t think anything of it. He just put it back up where it had already been.”

Hughes said upon repeated questioning by police, it came to him that possibly that was something that could have happened but he still didn’t think so.

SCIENCE AND A DAMAGED CRIME SCENE

Stadiem told the court that in a case like this, prosecutors can’t positively identify the object used to kill the child, but that they could say some type of object was used. He said they also couldn’t put a specific time on when the strangulation occurred.

“Unfortunately, the science hasn’t reached the point where we can say other than in a several-hour block period,” he told the court.

Stadiem told the judge that if the state had gone to trial, prosecutors would have presented evidence that indicated Buchanan committed the crime in the time period he was in the room and alone with the child.

“We don’t have any medical evidence to say that it happened outside of that time period when he was in the room because science is not to that point yet,” Stadiem said.

There were other problematic factors in the case. The couple’s dogs had torn up the crime scene area because they were placed in the room when emergency personnel were trying to save the infant’s life.

While there were conflicting statements Hughes had mentioned, Stadiem said Galperin was under emotional stress. He said it didn’t matter if the baby monitor was unplugged or not, because experts told him the infant wouldn’t have been able to make sound when the strangulation occurred. He also addressed the May 2018 jail incident and when Galperin spoke with detectives hours later.

He told the court it was clear from the video recording of her interview that she was having a “complete and utter emotional breakdown.”

Stadiem told the court the state believed Buchanan killed his son. He also told the judge that the state wasn’t satisfied with the plea arrangement.

“We don’t feel that this is adequate justice for Rylan,” he told the judge. He said unfortunately, based on the facts and on the law, “this is the best result the state could have.”

‘I NEVER HARMED MY SON’

Buchanan also addressed the court during the plea hearing.

“I’ve never harmed my son at any point in his life, physically or emotionally,” he told the court. “I don’t understand why I’m the only one standing before you today and not Sarah Galperin. I love my son. I think about my son every single day. Rylan was the most important person in my life. Keeping his memory alive is something that I want to work toward for the rest of my life.”

He said accepting the plea deal was one of the most difficult decisions of his life.

“I’m accepting this plea because of my fear that a jury will make a decision that will be devastating not only on my life, but also on my family’s life,” he said.

Buchanan said he also accepted the plea deal because it brings a close to one the worst chapters of his life.

The plea hearing was held in February and the Times received a court transcript this week.

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