Sean Michael Sowards was born on September 23, 2004 to Crystal Conklin and Michael Sowards of Warren, Michigan, who had been together for 8 years. Baby Sean was Michael and Crystal’s first-born son, they also had a little girl, Angelique “Angel” who was a year older.
In 2003, the girl tested positive for weed in her system, DHS provided services to the family.
In 2005 DHS received a report that Crystal was beating on Sean, they said she would wake the baby up just to beat on him. DHS was told “She doesn’t want him and only kept him because the father wanted him,”
Elizabeth Herd, Sean’s paternal grandma also called DHS;
“My concerns were Sean was being injured in his home,” she said. “I told them my 4-month-old grandson was being spanked by his mother because he wouldn’t stop crying.” She said she was told that “unless he is seriously injured or dead, they would not investigate.” and “They said parents have a right to discipline their children, and it was none of my business,” she said.
In 2006 Elizabeth was told by Crystal that her grandson had an eye infection, it was after this that she was kept away from Sean. Elizabeth also reported that she saw bruises and cuts on Sean but was always told that Angel did it.
Sean Michael Sowards and sister
Michael came home from work on the evening of June 11, 2007 and saw his son in desperate need of medical attention. Sean was laying in bed unconscious in his own vomit. He picked his son up and rushed him to the emergency room at St. John Oakland General Hospital where it was learned that he had extensive head and brain trauma among many other injuries that were new and old.
When Sean arrived at the hospital he was unresponsive, covered in bruises and cuts from head-to-toe, he had a cut on his forehead that should have received stitches but was already healing, his toenails on his big toes were torn away, replaced with blood, he was essentially blind from from his eyes being burnt from most likely nail polish remover being poured on them, he had a broken finger, bite-marks and was underweight.
Sean was then transferred to St. John Hospital in Detroit for emergency surgery. Although the doctors did a heroic job and worked on baby Sean in surgery to relieve the fluid on his brain he still died 2 days later on June 13th. It was at this point his tragic nightmare-ish life story began to unfold in the news.
Crystal and Michael both were arrested on the 13th. On the 14th, after investigators spoke with Macomb County Prosecutor’s Office they released Michael from jail. Crystal was charged with felony murder and child abuse.
The couples 3-year-old daughter Angel was placed into the custody of Macomb County Child Protective Services. She was never abused, Sean was the only target of his mothers hatred.
Crystal was 7 ½ months pregnant and complained of labor pains so she was taken to the hospital. She returned to her cell as soon as they discovered there was nothing wrong with her.
During Crystal’s arraignment she cried uncontrollably and Judge Walter Jakubowcski Jr. told her he wasn’t impressed with her theatrics and said she was a danger to all children and he hoped God would save her soul before setting her bond at $500,000 cash.
Crystal and Michael told Krystal Magnan, a DHS worker;
” that he (Sean) was clumsy and he would bump into walls a lot, and (his sister) was physically aggressive toward him. She also said DHS investigated 2 complaints but they were not serious and were closed. “She didn’t really give me answers,” Magnan said. “She piggy-backed on what the dad said, what Mr. Sowards said.”
These excuses would be used many times by Crystal when talking about Sean’s injuries.
On April 18th Dr. Marcus DeGraw of St. John Hospital in Detroit testified against Crystal saying that;
“There was a repetitive infliction of pain for discipline, almost a torture scenario,” “He was abused … repetitively throughout his existence.”
Dr. Degraw treated Sean in the hospital and said he died of blunt force trauma to the head, a single blow “causing immediate symptoms.” He said the type of injury Sean had is what you would see in a high speed accident or falling from a window several floors high.
He said that Sean was undernourished and half the weight a child should be at for his age. During his testimony he said;
“To me, it was neglect, a restriction of food,” DeGraw said. “You would have to work extremely hard to make a child not gain weight like that.” You can feed a child 5 meals a week and he will still gain weight.”
Forensic nurse, Marnie Van Dam said in court that Sean had over 3 dozen bruises from head-to-toe and was covered in cuts and abrasions. His big toe toenails were ripped off, Sean’s eyelids were red and swollen and his corneas were cloudy. His bruises were in various stages of healing, proving that his abuse was recurring.
Macomb County Medical Examiner Daniel Spitz agreed that Sean died of non-accidental blunt-force trauma to the head.
Assistant Macomb prosecutor Therese Tobin told reporters”He was battered head to toe,” “He was basically blind” from being shaking or hit on the head.
Photos of Sean’s battered and beaten little body were shown to jurors, pictures of his bed room were also included. There was blood covering the closet walls, the door, his sheets and the carpets. There was also blood on his clothes on the utility room floor and in the washer were more clothes with blood and the stench of vomit according to Officer Marlene Niedermeier.
Mathew Conklin, Crystal’s uncle testified that she treated Angel a lot different than Sean. He said he once warned her about it when Sean tried to climb up in her lap saying “Mommy, mommy” and she grabbed him by his forehead and pushed him back forcefully. Mathew said the boy hit his head hard enough it bounced off of the coffee table “like a ball.”
He said when Sean started crying;
“Angel looked at me and started screaming. She (Crystal Conklin) put her attention to Angel. She picked up Angel and said, ‘Poor Angel.’” “Angel got all the positive attention and positive interaction,” he said. “It seemed Sean was always dished off to the side.”
Mathew stated that Crystal and Michael stayed with him for weeks at a time due to their financial situation.
He also said while being sworn in and questioned by Prosecutor Therese Tobin that he believed Sean had not developed correctly for his age because of how he was treated by his mother. Crystal complained frequently that the baby cried all the time and never slept through the night.
“She was very upset at his crying,” he said. “She once said that something was wrong with him and then said she thought he was doing it on purpose.”
Mathew also testified that “Sean’s face was always covered with blankets” and she tried to keep him in his playpen down in the dark, wet basement or out in the garage so she didn’t have to deal with him.
Mathew also saw bruises and cuts on the boy but was given the same excuse as everyone else.
When Mathew was cross-examined by defense attorney Ronald Goldstein he said his niece did come to his home while Sean was in the hospital and she was upset and nervous. She told him that Sean had a seizure.
When Michael Sowards’ initially took the stand he said that he had not seen his girlfriend hit their son. He retorted and later testified that he did see her hit him. He said the reason he lied in the beginning was;
“at the time I couldn’t believe she could do that to my son. I didn’t believe what was happening. It was a nightmare. I didn’t think someone who I cared about so much could do that to my son. I believed she was excessive at times, but I didn’t believe she was capable.”
Michael also acknowledged his role by saying he didn’t do enough to stop the abuse of his son.
Cpl. Chad Richardson also testified and said that he interviewed Crystal twice. She told him that Sean vomited and she put him in his bed. She checked on him later and said “Seany, Seany” and he would not wake up. That was when she noticed that he had vomited a couple more times.
In the 2nd interview she said her and Sean were in the bathroom and he “slipped and fell, and she couldn’t catch him in time,” but that she never laid a hand on the child other than for discipline. Cpl. Richardson told the court “She said he was acting like a ping pong ball bouncing against the walls in the hallway,”
“We had her in custody for seven hours and she did not ask once about her son,”
Michael at Sean’s funeral
Kathleen Conklin said she visited her sister the weekend before Sean’s death and his legs were both in one pants leg to restrict him from moving. It was normal for Crystal to wrap him in 2 blankets and either put him in a car seat or high chair so he wasn’t able to move around. She said she didn’t feel like her sister loved Sean “there was always so much anger towards him.”
When the prosecutor asked Kathleen how she thought her sister, Crystal felt about Angel she said, “She loved Angel. Angel was allowed to be a kid. She allowed her to play.”
Crystal suddenly had her own version of the story that Michael was the one that abused and murdered Sean except she had not mentioned one word about it until she took the stand that very day.
Attorney Tobin said in closing arguments;
“Michael Sowards failed his son. He admitted that to you,” Tobin told the jury. “He will answer for that later.” She also asked the jurors to consider both testimonies, Michael’s and Crystal’s.
“Sean’s last week was spent almost blind. He would put his hand over his eye for some comfort, for some assistance. He was a 2-year-old walking around the house. He was trying to find his own way with this own hands,” Tobin said. “If your child couldn’t see, do you let him feel his way around the house or do you get him in a car, or get him in an ambulance and get him to a doctor? The reason [Conklin] didn’t is the dirty little secret. Sean was abused.”
“For some reason, Crystal Conklin did not treat her son the way she treated her daughter. Why is that? I don’t know,” Tobin said. “What we know are the ramifications of those feelings. What we know is that there was a bruised and battered Sean for whatever reason”
Michael cried through much of the court proceedings and said “The only thing that matters, is justice for my son,”
Crystal Conklin was found guilty of first degree murder and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. She was also given 9-15 years for the first degree child abuse charge and it will run concurrently.
On July 10th Michael Sean Sowards was sentenced to 9 months in jail and five years probation for second degree child abuse for failing to be aware of, stop or report the abuse.
Michael read the following letter in court;
Your Honor, Mrs. Tobin,
Everyone has regrets and choices in their life that they wish they could change or do over, do differently. I know I do! I just want to say, I love my children! I love them with all my heart! They were the most precious gift in my life and anyone who knows me knows how much I loved them. I made extremely bad decisions. I stayed in a very bad relationship in the hope that I could fix things, I could make everyone happy, or make everything ok as long as I never gave up trying. My judgment, my entire thinking process was clouded by years of verbal, mental, physical abuse and manipulation by a very ill woman. But never in my worst nightmares did I even think that all of this could ever happen. Like the saying, “Hind site is always 20/20″. Now that I have had time to reflect and have been away from Crystal for some time. I realize now more than ever how beat down mentally I was. But I kept thinking to myself, I had a baby on the way, plus Angel and Sean and all I wanted was for us to be a family. And the harder I tried the worse Crystal would be. Of course I wish I had left her, but she made that almost impossible. Your honor I failed my son, my children. But I always loved them and I never hurt them. I tried my best with what I knew and what I thought at the time was possible. But always that wasn’t enough. Losing my son, my daughter, my babies has crushed me! I can’t imagine any kind of pain worse than that of losing your children. I would give my life in a heartbeat for the chance to change things, to leave Crystal and protect my son. That’s my regret.
He has also given up parental rights to Angelique and Brianna so that they may have a better life.
Sean’s family is very active in child abuse awareness and activism.
Crystal’s whole defense was that she was a “battered woman” that was scared to death of her boyfriend Michael. She attempted to blame Michael for Sean’s murder and abuse and said that she could not tell or Michael would retaliate on her.
Crystal lied from the moment she was arrested and she is probably lying as you are reading this article. She changed her story so many times and had absolutely no evidence to back up her story. Her own family knew she was rotten and once they were sworn in they had no choice but to tell the truth about how despicable she was because they didn’t want to be held in contempt.
Crystal even tried to blame her son’s death on her own child, Angel. Can you imagine the damage that would do to a child if she were to ever find out that her own mother blamed her for that.
In what scenario is it ever ok to spank a 4-month-old for crying? I don’t understand what reasoning DHS used when they said there was no reason to investigate the claim of abuse because “parents have a right to discipline their children” Elizabeth Herd, Sean’s grandmother said there were 10-12 complaints filed with DHS that went unnoticed.
As mentioned before Crystal attempted to claim the “battered partner syndrome” however no one believed her. In fact, it was believed that Michael was actually physically, mentally and emotionally abused by Crystal and perhaps was to weak to leave Crystal and protect his son from her.
This in no way excuses the fact that Michael had the responsibility to protect his son from being abused. He was the adult and Sean was the helpless child.
With that being said, there are not nearly enough resources for men that are abused. Men are supposed to be strong, be the protectors and the head of the household. Main stream society doesn’t accept weakness’s in men. It’s estimated that out of 100 domestic violence situations 40 of those involve men as the victim. It’s said that even those numbers may be a lot higher because a lot of men won’t come forward because of the stigma attached.
It’s hard to get women to report abuse even after all the programs that are offered, when is the last time you saw a commercial for a men’s shelter or abuse hotline for DV? If you see a man with a bruised face what’s your first reaction? I think it’s pretty obvious we have a lot of work to do in this area.
Please visit Seans Voice at http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100001033050337
Elizabeth and Danny Herd are very active in their community and work to prevent child abuse. Thank you for making a difference in so many children’s lives. Through you, Sean’s memory will always live on.
God Bless You Sean Sowards is a website created in memory of Sean Michael Sowards