Thursday, July 22, 2010

Dad sentenced to 40 years in infant son's death (Boulder, Colorado)

Dad BENJAMIN KOLLER has been sentenced to 40 years in prison for the blunt-force trauma death of his infant son. The baby was subjected to repeated abuse for crying--slapping, biting, shaking, pinching, suffocating. Experts compared the baby's injuries to a car wreck or fall from several stories. Daddy says he was "frustrated" because he was "exhausted after work." Boo hoo. We've posted on this story several times over the past year.

Publish Date: 7/22/2010

Man gets 40 years in son’s death

By Pierrette J. Shields
Longmont Times-Call

BOULDER — A Boulder District judge on Wednesday afternoon sentenced a 27-year-old Lafayette man to 40 years in the 2009 child abuse death of his infant son.

Boulder District judge Maria Berkenkotter’s decision came at the end of Benjamin Koller’s sentencing hearing, which lasted more than three hours.

Koller pleaded guilty in May to child abuse resulting in the death of his 4-month-old son, Jack. The plea spared him a trial for first-degree murder and meant he would face a prison term of up to 48 years, instead of the potential life term of a first-degree murder conviction.

Koller stood for several moments in the courtroom before he launched into a lengthy apology for the baby’s death.

“I don’t know why this tragedy happened,” he said. “I don’t know why I did what I did and I don’t have the answers. And I can assure you that I am just as confused and lost as the rest of us. What I do know is I am terribly, terribly sorry for the mistakes I made that cost our baby boy Jack, our Superman, his life. I am sorry, Jack, for not being a better father and making mistakes and committing actions that caused you great harm and ultimately cost you your life.”

Jack Koller was born May 27, 2009, and died Oct. 5, 2009. He was hospitalized for the first time on July 21, 2009, one year before his father was sentenced in his death.

According to police and prosecutors, Benjamin Koller repeatedly hurt the baby, who died of the delayed effects of blunt force trauma to the head, according to the Boulder County Coroner. Koller told investigators after the baby was hospitalized that his son’s crying frustrated him when he was exhausted after work and that he would hold his hand over the baby’s mouth until he changed colors and quieted, but then would slap, shake, pinch and bite Jack to rouse him. He recounted repeated instances where the baby would twist from his grasp and fall, once hitting his head on the edge of a changing table.

Prosecutor Ryan Brackley, who asked for the judge to sentence Koller to 48 years in prison, said Koller has never told the whole story because experts compared Jack’s injuries to those a baby might suffer in a car wreck or a fall from several stories.

“I haven’t tried to hide anything,” Koller said Wednesday. “What father wants to admit to the shaking and the biting and putting his hand over a child’s mouth? None. That’s how many.”

He apologized to individual family members and friends for the baby’s death, as well. His mother and some friends asked the court for leniency, and defense attorneys presented an expert witness who testified that adults raised in abusive situations may commit abuse as adults because of their brain development.

Jennifer Schmidt, Jack Koller’s mother, recounted living through her child’s death. She detailed his medical conditions and moments when it looked as though the baby might live. That resilience is why the family called the baby “Superman” and why the Superman logo is on his headstone. She talked about making the decision to let him die at home once it became clear the baby’s brain damage was permanent.

“I couldn’t let him have an infant brain in an adult body,” she said. “I couldn’t keep him sustained for selfish reasons.”

Many in the packed courtroom cried quietly as a slide show of photos put together by Claudia Riggs, Schmidt’s mother, flashed on a screen. In them, Jack is featured from birth to death, morphing from a plump and wide-eyed infant to a thin baby with a swollen forehead and constantly teary eyes. The slide show concluded with a photo of his casket and headstone.

Berkenkotter said she did not believe arguments that Koller did not understand his actions because of the prolonged nature of the abuse.

“Mr. Koller hurt Jack, so Jack cried. Jack cried, so Mr. Koller smothered and hurt Jack,” she said.

A restitution hearing may be scheduled in the case.