WINDOM — In lieu of the planned four-week jury trial set for a criminal case in which he was accused of killing his infant child, Windom resident Zachariah Baker entered a guilty plea Tuesday morning to a charge of second-degree manslaughter.
Baker, 28, was arrested in November 2018 when his baby died while Baker was up in the night with the infant.
At the time of the incident, Baker presented the death as an accident, stating that he had left the room to get a bottle and the infant was unresponsive when he returned. He later recalled grazing the baby's head while lifting the baby out of the crib, and said that he believed he accidentally caused the death of the infant.
The Ramsey County Medical Examiner's Office performed an autopsy and found that the cause of death was blunt force trauma, and a visible injury was noted on the back of the infant's head.
Over the course of the investigation, law enforcement learned from the infant's mother that Baker had a history of violent outbursts and a short temper.
A child abuse pediatrician at Midwest Children’s Resource Center reviewed the autopsy report and the family's personal history, and concluded that Baker's account of the death as an accident was not consistent with the injuries found on the infant's body (namely, hemorrhage in the neck structures, retinal hemorrhage and bilateral skull fractures). The pediatrician noted that it was possible the infant had been physically abused prior to their death.
Baker was charged with second-degree murder, unintentional, and third-degree murder, evincing a depraved mind. Later in the court proceedings, the third-degree murder charge was dismissed.
Since his arrest, Baker has contested the second-degree murder charge. A jury trial was set to begin Tuesday, but Baker filed a plea petition Friday morning and appeared for a plea hearing Tuesday instead.
As part of the plea agreement reached, the murder charge was dismissed. Law enforcement filed an amended criminal complaint that added a charge of second-degree manslaughter, indicating culpable negligence creating unreasonable risk.
The presumptive, or usual, sentence for this offense, based on Minnesota sentencing guidelines, is 48 months in prison. However, the prosecution — led by Cottonwood County Attorney Nicholas Anderson and Daniel Vlieger from the Minnesota Attorney General's Office — indicated a intention to argue for an aggravated sentence of 74 to 86 months.
Baker's prison term will be decided at a sentencing hearing May 18.