CLEVELAND – A man who took his 5-year-old son from his mother in Alabama nearly 14 years ago and raised him under a new identity was sentenced Wednesday to four years in prison.
Bobby Hernandez, 53, apologized and broke down as he tried to explain why he took his son. "Julian was the most important person in my life," he said.
His son, now 18, asked the judge to keep Hernandez out of prison, saying he was raised well and had forgiven his father.
Growing up without a mother was painful "but taking him away from me is doing the same thing all over again," Julian Hernandez said.
The boy's mother said in a statement read by her attorney that the day he went missing was the worst of her life.
"During my darkest moments I considered suicide," her statement said. "I wanted to die."
Hernandez pleaded guilty last month to charges that included kidnapping, interference of custody, tampering with records and forgery.
Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Tim McGinty had asked for a lengthy sentence because he said Hernandez deprived the boy of a relationship with his mother.
The deception was uncovered last fall after discrepancies with a Social Security number arose when Julian Hernandez, an 18-year-old senior at a Cleveland high school, started the college application process. A school counselor subsequently discovered that he was listed as missing by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
He was reported missing in August 2002 after his father went to the Birmingham, Alabama-area home of the boy's mother to babysit. Hernandez instead left a note saying that he'd taken the child. It was the last time the boy's mother saw him until last year.
McGinty said Hernandez had threatened to take the boy from his mother if she ever broke up with him. Hernandez and the woman, who still lives in the Birmingham area, weren't married.
Hernandez ended up in Cleveland where he established new identities for himself and his son. Hernandez obtained a driver's license and a Social Security card using the name Jonathan Mangina. A neighbor in Cleveland said Julian Hernandez was known as J.J.
Bobby Hernandez was working at a factory in Cleveland when he was arrested last November. He's been in jail ever since.
Julian Hernandez visited his mother and her family in Alabama last Thanksgiving and at Christmas. Bobby Hernandez's attorney, Ralph DeFranco, said the son had not spoken to his father since a judge issued a no-contact order in early December.
DeFranco has said Bobby Hernandez was a "model" father to his son, a straight-A student and athlete. DeFranco also has said that Hernandez knew he'd be caught someday. It hasn't been explained how Hernandez managed to create new identities and Social Security numbers for himself and his son, and details about their lives in Cleveland haven't been revealed publicly.
An Alabama prosecutor, Shawn Allen, has said authorities would meet with Julian Hernandez's relatives after sentencing to determine whether to extradite Bobby Hernandez to Jefferson County, where he could face prison time for interfering with custody.