There was no hiding the child's disfiguring injuries in a Douglas County district courtroom Tuesday.
Nor was there any concealing of the abuse of the child by his father and the father's girlfriend.
Not like Chad Cymbalista and his then-girlfriend, Nicole Corcoran, had tried to do April 24, 2012, when they caked makeup on the boy's face and took him to the Nebraska Medical Center.
Tuesday, their abuse of the little boy was laid bare.
Several times, prosecutor Molly Keane held up a photo of the 2-year-old — taken moments after doctors removed the makeup.
In the photo, the toothy toddler has a goose-egg knot in the center of his forehead, both eyes swollen shut, abrasions on his cheeks and a lower lip marred by what doctors believe was a burn. Doctors further found marks in the shape of adult hands on his arms — and other bruises in various stages of healing.
The photo of the boy — in a hospital gown adorned with big-eared dogs — cried out for punishment, Keane said.
“This was horrific treatment,” Keane said, noting that one investigator described it as “torture.”
Shuffling through that photo and others, Douglas County District Judge Greg Schatz rejected a probation officer's recommendation of probation for Cymbalista, who had no record.
Cymbalista and Corcoran, both 27, faced up to 20 years in prison.
The judge sentenced Cymbalista to four to five years in prison for attempted child abuse — the reduced charge to which he pleaded guilty. He then sentenced Corcoran, mother of three other young children, to eight to 10 years on the same charge.
In giving Corcoran twice as much time as Cymbalista, Schatz cited comments made by Corcoran's children, who witnessed the beatings.
The children, who lived with Cymbalista and his child, said Corcoran would call the toddler “dumb” and “stupid” and beat him in the face and head while Cymbalista was at work. She and Cymbalista would force him to sleep on a urine-soaked blanket. And they would use toddler gates to pen in the boy “for daring to seek out food,” Keane said.
And, Keane noted, the two did all that damage in just the six weeks that they had taken over custody of the boy.
Douglas County Attorney Don Kleine called the abuse brutal.
“Sometimes it's hard for people to imagine that anyone is capable of hurting a defenseless child,” he said. “There are so many people who would just love to have this child and would be willing to do whatever it takes to raise the child the way it should be raised.”
Fortunately, the child is in one such home now — with a foster family that dotes on him and cares for him, authorities say. Now 3, he's eager and bright and talkative, said Shakil Malik, a deputy Douglas County attorney who met with the boy a couple of months ago.
He's mostly overcome his injuries. There's no discernible brain damage, but the child may have slight scarring beneath the eyes.
The biggest lingering issue: A plastic surgeon testified that the boy likely will need surgery to repair his lower lip. After losing a third of his lip, the child had a severe drooling and dribbling problem — and was unable to swallow properly.
But he's now able to eat and drink.
“He's doing as well as can be expected,” Kleine said.
Cymbalista and Corcoran had told authorities that the toddler tore open a cut to his lip by eating popcorn salt. He then picked at it for more than a month before the two decided to take the boy to the hospital, they said.
Doctors found the popcorn-salt story incredible. They suspect that the child suffered a burn to his lower lip that wasn't treated for weeks.
Cymbalista admitted that they covered up the boy's injuries with makeup. However, neither Cymbalista nor Corcoran admitted to the abuse.
As Corcoran's attorney, Bill Eustice, pointed out, Cymbalista blamed Corcoran and vice versa.
Cymbalista had taken classes and had since made efforts to become involved in the boy's life, with the goal of having custody of him again, said his attorney, James Kozel.
Corcoran, for her part, read a five-minute statement in which she denied abusing the boy. She insisted she loved him as if he were her own. She also said she was “born to be a mother.”
“I don't have a mean bone in my body,” Corcoran said. “I love all children. It breaks my heart to see them in any pain. ... I'm only responsible for not asserting myself in my relationship.”
To that, Schatz pointed to her children's accounts of their mother's abuse of the young boy.
“The judge did a good job in discerning who was the more responsible of the two,” Kleine said. “Even so, it's hard to imagine that the child's own father could just stand by and allow this to happen.”
Under state sentencing guidelines, inmates must serve half the lower term of their sentences before being eligible for parole and most are released after serving half the upper term.
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