Joe Rickey Hundley's guilty plea Wednesday in a federal court in Atlanta was part of an agreement in which he could serve up to six months in federal prison in addition to the counseling and treatment, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.
Hundley, 61, and his attorney acknowledged that alcohol may have contributed to his actions Feb. 8, but both said more weight should be given to the fact that Hundley's son was about to die after he overdosed on insulin.
During the hearing, Hundley told U.S. Magistrate Judge Alan Baverman he has been in alcohol treatment since the incident.
Hundley was arrested after allegedly slapping a 19-month-old toddler during a flight from Minneapolis to Atlanta, scratching the child under the child's eye. He was sitting next to the child's mother and uttered a racial slur when he spoke to her about quieting the child.
Hundley originally pleaded not guilty and a trial was scheduled to start Thursday, the Journal-Constitution said. But attorney Marcia Shein said her client decided Tuesday to enter a guilty plea.
"He couldn't take it anymore," Shein told reporters after the plea hearing.
Hundley's son had intentionally taken an overdose of insulin, and died shortly after that, Shein said.
"He lost a child," she said. "And to hear a child scream ... he lost it. He was up for 24 hours determining whether to unplug his son."
Hundley was fired from his job as an executive for an aviation company in Idaho amid the media attention to the allegations, the Journal-Constitution said. He hasn't worked full time since.