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Friday, April 13, 2001 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Man gets 25 years in murder of toddler

Seattle Times staff reporter

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They came wearing T-shirts with a photo of little Nenah Walters printed on the front -- dozens of relatives and friends with one goal as they overflowed a Kent courtroom yesterday: to give the man convicted of beating the toddler to death a piece of their minds.

They called Chayce Hanson a predator, a coward, a "thing." They said they hoped inmates at prison would treat him as he treated their beloved little girl.

But even as a judge sentenced 25-year-old Hanson to 25 years behind bars, he and his family refused to bend.

"I'm sorry for what happened," Hanson told the crowd. "But I'm innocent."

A King County Superior Court jury last month convicted Hanson of second-degree murder in the young girl's death last July.

Prosecutors say Hanson kicked the 2-year-old girl, his girlfriend's daughter, down some stairs while babysitting at their Renton home. When the tot became ill and lethargic, prosecutors alleged, Hanson assured Nenah's mother, Denita Walters, that Nenah was ill with the flu. She fell unconscious the next day and died of a ruptured colon.

Yesterday, prosecutors sought a 30-year prison term, saying the child was especially vulnerable and that Hanson had betrayed a trust as her babysitter.

Hanson asked for a 13-year term. During his trial he had testified on his own behalf, accusing Nenah's mother of beating the girl and blaming him in order to cover up her crime.

Yesterday, Nenah's family and friends said that made the crime all the more infuriating.

"The hell I live in is not even explained by words," Denita Walters said, showing Hanson photos of Nenah's casket and headstone. "The pain I live with every day is a million times worse than the pain she suffered before she died."

Nenah's father, Emery Walters, who is divorced from Nenah's mother, said he now sleeps with a purple Barney the dinosaur doll dressed in his daughter's favorite clothes. A tall, tough-looking man with muscular, tattooed arms, a shaved head and a goatee, Walters fought tears.

"Just as my little girl suffered, it's (Hanson's) turn to suffer now," he said. "What kind of person can kick or hit a little child?"

Nenah's paternal grandfather, Hank Wilborn, a retired military officer and Vietnam War veteran, said beating a child deserves special punishment.

"It's my fervent hope that every inmate he comes in contact with will see him for the coward he is and treat him accordingly," Wilborn said.

But members of Hanson's family said they believe Denita Walters and prosecutors conspired to hang the blame on Hanson.

"I believe with all my heart my son is innocent," said Valerie Thomas, Hanson's mother. "I feel bad that (Nenah's) family and the prosecutors made my son out to be the monster that I don't believe he is. I believe the only monster here is Denita Walters."

Judge Terry Lukens wasn't buying it.

"While Mr. Hanson has maintained his innocence, the ultimate question in this case was decided by the jury," Lukens said. "Mr. Hanson did indeed murder Nenah Walters."

The judge said he considered that Hanson had no felony record, no history of assaulting children or anyone else.

But he noted Nenah was helpless - a girl who weighed 34 pounds. And worse, the judge said, was what Hanson did after he beat her.

"Mr. Hanson had it within his power to insist that Nenah Walters receive medical care, and he failed to do so," Lukens said. "He could have saved the life of this child, and he did not."

Ian Ith can be reached at 206-464-2109 or iith@seattletimes.com.

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