Mike Terry, Deseret Morning News
Michael John Bowden closes his eyes as he stands at a court podium Monday for his sentencing.

A man convicted of nearly starving his girlfriend's 5-year-old daughter to death was sentenced to up to 15 years in prison on Monday.

Michael John Bowden, 27, was convicted of second-degree felony child abuse after a bench trial before 3rd District Judge Robert Hilder, which involves only a judge hearing the facts and deciding guilt or innocence.

After the conviction, Hilder sent Bowden to the Utah State Prison's diagnostic unit for a mental health evaluation.

Bowden's defense attorneys had argued that the Army veteran suffered from post traumatic stress disorder from combat in Iraq.

But prosecutors insisted Bowden knew what he was doing when he drank and did drugs while neglecting to feed Jade Ferrando. The child, who has cerebral palsy, withered from about 35 pounds to 12 pounds while in Bowden's care when the mother was in the military, stationed in Iraq. Her condition resulted in her being hospitalized for several weeks in the summer of 2006.

Bowden apologized in court Monday. "I am sorry for everything that happened and for everything I caused," he said. "I made bad choices to drink and do drugs rather than take care of Jade."

His attorneys argued for probation with treatment in a residential facility first and then a Veteran's Administration-run halfway house.

Defense attorney Michael Sikora said if justice required more time behind bars it should be in jail, rather than prison. Going to prison could mean Bowden would be lost in the system and might not get the mental health treatment he needs, Sikora said.

But prosecutor Fred Burmester said the case was about a little girl who was nearly starved to death, not about Bowden, who Burmester said tries to portray himself as a victim.

Furthermore, Burmester said the diagnostic report did not show Bowden suffers from full-blown post traumatic stress syndrome. Additionally, the report pointed out Bowden has not accepted full responsibility for what happened, Burmester said.

Burmester agreed that Bowden does need some treatment, but the "extreme cruelty" of the case merited some punishment.

Hilder pledged to write a letter to the warden and the receiving and orientation unit, strongly recommending the Conquest program for Bowden. Conquest is a mental health program. Hilder said he will also ask that Bowden not be sent to a local jail, which is frequently done with nonviolent offenders. Instead, Bowden should remain in prison where he can get appropriate mental health services, Hilder said.

Hilder said he would also ask that Bowden get the earliest possible parole date, with continuing mental health treatment upon release.

E-mail: lindat@desnews.com