Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Drunk dad who suffocated to death 5-month-old son gets probation (Kenosha, Wisconsin)

The drunk daddy is identified as GARY J. SAUCEDA.

Judge orders probation in co-sleeping death

4/17 7:41 p.m.
Updated 4/17 11:19 p.m.


A Kenosha father convicted for falling asleep with his 5-month-old son while drunk and unintentionally smothering him will serve probation.

No jail time was ordered as a condition of Gary J. Sauceda’s probation, which will last four years, Kenosha County Circuit Judge Mary Wagner ordered Tuesday. He faced up to 15 years in prison.

After a hung jury in 2011, Sauceda was convicted in February of child neglect leading to his son Joey’s death in January 2010. Sauceda said he fell asleep with 5-month-old Joey on his chest and later woke up on top of the boy.

Blood tests showed Sauceda had an estimated blood alcohol level of 0.17 percent nearly two hours after Joey was found dead. Prosecutor Robert Zapf argued that level would have been much higher when Sauceda took the chance of lying down with the boy.

Defense attorney John A. Ward said evidence showed Joey’s death was due to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome and Sauceda was not at fault. Sauceda also denied responsibility for Joey’s death, despite telling police in the moments after Joey was found lifeless that the situation was his fault.

Maintaining the family

During sentencing Tuesday afternoon, Sauceda, 37, had little to say, other than to clarify an issue related to a pill he swallowed shortly after police arrived at his home in the 4600 block of Eighth Avenue.

But Joey’s mother, Gina Barker, begged Wagner to consider what a good father Sauceda has been to his 11-year-old before and since Joey’s death and what sending Sauceda to jail or prison might do to their family.

“If you split this family, it’s not only going to tear me apart, it’s going to tear my little girl apart and his boy,” Barker said as she began to cry. “It’s brought us together. If you take that away, where’s it going to go? It’s going to go right back down the drain.”

Wagner credited Sauceda for apparently improving his lifestyle and staying sober since his son’s death. She also considered recommendations from Zapf and the Department of Corrections that probation was an appropriate sentence.

High legal bills

Ward argued that a $100 fine would be most appropriate, given the tens of thousands of dollars Sauceda will be forced to pay not only for his legal defense, but also his prosecution; under state law, defendants can be ordered to pay prosecution costs if they are convicted — for Sauceda, that means another $6,375, plus monthly supervision fees, a $250 fee to collect a DNA sample because he is now a felon, plus an estimated $15,000 in defense expert costs, not to mention attorney fees.

“That, along with the loss of his child, is more than anyone should have to bear,” Ward said.

Ward also argued that the state Department of Corrections, which will oversee Sauceda’s probation, would “destroy” Sauceda’s family. Under the “cookie cutter” rules typically applied in neglect cases, Ward feared that Sauceda would be ordered to have no contact with his 11-year-old son — another argument toward not ordering probation.

Wagner rejected that argument, partly because the DOC reported to the court that Sauceda was a “good and responsible parent,” particularly since Joey’s death.

Wagner also ordered probation because she felt Sauceda had to somehow be held accountable for the bad choices that led to Joey’s death.

“I hope many people learn from this,” Wagner said.