Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly listed the charge the defendant pleaded guilty to.
NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — When 14-year-old Robert Bolsinger Hartshorn beat a 4-year-old to death, prosecutors believe he was perpetuating a cycle of physical abuse he experienced himself.
“People who are abused abuse other people,” said Norfolk Commonwealth’s Attorney Ramin Fatehi.
Bolsinger-Hartshorn is now 18 years old. On Friday, Oct. 21, he pleaded guilty to the voluntary manslaughter of Larkin Carter Carr. The 4-year-old died of blunt force trauma to the abdomen in November 2018 while he was being watched by Bolsinger-Hartshorn.
“He was effectively left to be the caregiver of Larkin while the people who were supposed to be caring for Larkin were gone,” Fatehi said. “That’s not a responsibility we put on 14 year olds.”
The teenager admitted to police that on Nov. 9, 2018, the Friday before Larkin died, he hit the 4-year-old in the stomach with a chair while their parents were out of the house.
He was left alone with Larkin again on Nov. 12, 2018, during which time the teenager told police he got on top of the 4-year-old and hit him in the stomach. Larkin became unresponsive, and by the time paramedics got to the house, he was not breathing. He was pronounced dead at the hospital.
“The physical abuse that he [Bolsinger-Hartshorn] was misusing as discipline was the same sort of physical abuse that people had used to disciple him,” Fatehi said.
Tiffany Crawford worked as Bolsinger-Hartshorn’s attorney. She said when the teenager was interrogated by Norfolk Police he admitted that he hit Larkin in certain areas of his body because those were the same areas adults had abused him.
“He said he’d been beat his whole life when he was bad,” Crawford told WAVY News. “His life, up to the point that he was arrested, it was just brutal.”
Bolsinger-Hartshorn was sentenced to 10 years in prison, with 10 years suspended. As part of the plea agreement, he will remain in the custody of the Norfolk Department of Juvenile Justice (NDJJ) until he is 21 years old and will be under supervised probation for 10 years after his release.
By the time of his release, Bolsinger-Hartshorn will have spent the better part of seven years in NDJJ custody.
Crawford believes the plea agreement paves a way for Bolsinger-Hartshorn’s rehabilitation.
“At the heart, that’s what juvenile justice is supposed to do,” she said.
Fatehi called the case “difficult and heartbreaking.” He said Bolsinger-Hartshorn has been well behaved while in custody, and that he has taken advantage of the rehabilitation programs offered to him during that time. Fatehi hopes that the time spent in NDJJ custody and the suspended sentence hanging over Bolsinger-Hartshorn when he is released will prevent him from committing future times.
Fatehi said in offering Bolsinger-Hartshorn a plea agreement, prosecutors weighed the fact that he was a child at the time he killed Larkin.
“Based on the fact that he’s in a healthy environment where he has done everything he could to try and get himself out of that cycle leaves me with the hope that we’ve been able to serve justice and protect public,” Fatehi said. “And do so while recognizing that in a civilized world we do not punish children the same way we punish adults.”
Crawford said that Bolsinger-Hartshorn is very remorseful for Larkin’s death. She believes his time in NDJJ will provide him with an opportunity to get appropriate counseling and hopes that he will go on to help other boys and men who have been abused.
“I recognize and acknowledge that there is a little boy who will never ever be able to grow up, and that is just heart breaking,” Crawford said. “But justice for him, in my opinion, is that we give Robbie the tools that he needs to become rehabilitated and productive and to go on and life his life in a manner that he can now influence other young men or help others not to get caught up in violence.”
Prosecutors have always argued that Bolsinger-Hartshorn wasn’t the only person responsible for Larkin’s death.
The two boys were not related, but their parents – Larkin’s father, Hank Smith, and Bolsinger-Hartshorn’s mother, Catherine Seals – were in a relationship. The couple lived together in a home on Sangamon Avenue with Larkin, Boltsinger-Harshorn, and two other small children.
Smith worked outside of the state and would be gone from the home for extended periods of time, including three to four weeks before the weekend leading up to Larkin’s death. Seals told detectives she only left the younger boys home alone with her teenage son a handful of times in the five months they lived together; however, detectives said they spoke with neighbors who said the teenager babysat often.
Both Seals and Smith were charged in connection to Larkin’s death because prosecutors say they did not get medical attention for the 4-year-old, who was covered in bruises and seriously ill the weekend before he died.
Smith was convicted of felony homicide and child abuse and neglect in October 2021. He was sentenced to 21 years in prison for his role in his son’s death.
Seals pleaded guilty to felony homicide and felony child abuse in November 2019. She’s scheduled to be sentenced on Nov. 10.