Baker to serve 78 months for killing of infant
"I hope that with time, some peace comes to the family," the judge said.
WINDOM — A Cottonwood County District Court case years in the making drew to a close Tuesday morning when the defendant, Zachariah Baker, 28, of Windom, was sentenced to 78 months in prison for second-degree manslaughter in the killing of his infant son.
Baker was arrested in November 2018 following a months-long investigation of the death of his son, Knox, in July of that year. He was originally charged with both second-degree and third-degree murder, but ended up pleading guilty to a lesser charge of second-degree manslaughter earlier this month.
The offense indicates culpable negligence creating unreasonable risk. It was determined that Baker may not have intended to harm Knox while tending to the baby in the middle of the night, but after he hit the infant's head while lifting him out of the crib, Baker failed to seek medical care, and his actions contributed to Knox's death.
At the sentencing hearing Tuesday, Knox's mother and maternal grandparents were present in the courtroom, but the prosecutors indicated that the family did not wish to address the court.
The central issue of the sentencing hearing was the length of Baker's prison term. He pleaded guilty to one aggravated factor, Knox's particular vulnerability based on his age. The aggravated sentence carried a range of 74 to 86 months in prison.
The prosecution, led by Cottonwood County Attorney Nicholas Anderson and Daniel Vlieger from the Minnesota Attorney General's Office, went first, with Vlieger delivering the argument.
Vlieger asked Fifth Judicial District Judge Christina Wietzema to impose an 86-month sentence.
"Knox Baker was less than two months old," Vlieger said. "It's hard to think of a more vulnerable victim."
Anticipating a defense argument that Baker should get a shorter sentence due to showing remorse, Vlieger told the court, "Frankly, I'd be surprised if the defendant did not show remorse.
"Eighty-six months does not exaggerate the criminality of his conduct," the prosecutor concluded.
He also indicated that the family had filed an affidavit of restitution asking for $1,804 in compensation for Knox's funeral expenses.
The defense team, comprising Amanda Delaney, Assistant Fifth Judicial District Public Defender, and Steve Bergeson, Assistant State Public Defender.
Bergeson presented on behalf of the defense. He explained that 74 months is already a 54% increase over the presumptive sentence for second-degree manslaughter without aggravating factors.
"Courts are pretty adept at recognizing responsibility, at assigning responsibility," he said. "We sometimes gloss over (remorse) as an excuse, as something somebody might to do get something."
However, Baker is not showing remorse as a charade to get a shorter sentence, Bergeson argued.
"Mr. Baker feels this every day," he said.
Bergeron said that Baker has been open in conversations with him and spoken about what kind of person Knox would be if he were alive — which words he would know, how he would play, what his personality would be like and so forth, the lawyer said. If not for his death, Knox would be about 3 years old.
"He (Baker) would give his life for him (Knox)," Bergeson concluded.
Prior to his sentence, Baker exercised his right to address the court. He was in tears as he spoke, and his head was hung low.
"I know the severity of this case," he said. "I know I deserve to be punished. I punish myself to an extent every day.
"I will forever feel this loss. I only hope that with time it will ease."
He told Wietzema that he would accept whatever ruling she issued.
Reaching the conclusion of Baker's case "won't make the difficulty go away," Wietzema said.
"Your child was incredibly vulnerable," she told Baker. "Nothing is more devastating and heartbreaking than the death of a child."
The judge also noted that throughout the court proceedings, she has noticed Baker showing remorse.
"In observing you, I don't believe that that's an act," she said.
Wietzema extended her sympathy to Knox's family.
"I'm not sure that any criminal sentence is justice," she said. "We can't bring Knox back."
She sentenced Baker to 78 months in prison, with credit for 902 days in jail that he's served since his arrest. She also ordered him to pay $1,804 in restitution, which will come out of his prison wages.
"I hope that with time, some peace comes to the family," she said.