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Autistic man who shook baby to death sentenced to 10 years

Published: Nov. 12, 2020 at 5:19 PM AKST
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FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF) - A Fairbanks man who pleaded guilty to manslaughter earlier this year has been sentenced to serve 10 years in prison for shaking his seven month old baby to death in 2018. James Jimieson, 24, was charged with first and second degree murder after his infant died in an Anchorage hospital from brain trauma due to being shaken.

Jimieson, who has severe autism, pled guilty to manslaughter after prosecutors offered a plea deal.

During the sentencing hearing, Dr. Nina Wandt, a licensed clinical psychologist with a forensic specialty testified that Jimieson suffers from severe autism and likely did not realize that shaking a baby was wrong. She said that he would have needed to have been told multiple times to understand the dangers of shaking a baby. She also said that because of his autism he would get violent when he was frustrated.

Bill Satterberg, Jimieson’s defense attorney said during the hearing that Jimieson’s girlfriend had cerebral palsy and was largely unable to help take care of the baby, leaving Jimieson with most of the responsibilities on top of working a full time job.

During the time that the baby was alive, Jimieson had called a crisis helpline twice to seek help for the care of the baby, but was told to only call in an emergency. The Office of Child Services (OCS) had also gotten involved in the case and had tried to take the baby away, an action that Jimieson agreed with. The baby’s mother was against the idea, and a judge ruled against the OCS removing the baby from the home.

Satterberg argued that the system had failed Jimieson, and that while he accepted responsibility for his actions and knew what he did was wrong, he only deserved to serve five years in prison, the minimum sentence for a manslaughter charge.

During the hearing Dr. Wandt also told the judge that Jimieson wanted to be castrated so something like this could never happen again.

Jimieson spoke during the hearing and apologized for his actions, and said he knew he was wrong and wished he could have his daughter back.

Elizabeth Crail, the prosecutor, said during her sentencing arguments that she struggled with the case. “This is a difficult case for me, and I am not sure why, other than perhaps somewhat unusually enough I have a great deal of sympathy for Mr. Jimieson in this case, more than I do for most defendants.” She went on to argue that even though the system in a way failed Jimieson, he still was responsible for his actions. She asked the judge to sentence him to 20 years with 10 suspended, meaning he would serve 10 years in prison.

Judge Bennett said in his sentencing that the entire situation was a tragedy and he sympathized with Jimieson. In sentencing Jimieson, Bennett said his biggest concern was the reaffirmation of societal norms.

“The community condemnation for a parent shaking their child to death could not be higher. And the sentence needs to reflect that,” Bennett said.

He said that a short jail sentence would not reaffirm societal norms and agreed with the state sentencing Jimieson to 20 years with 10 suspended. He also applied a probation condition that Jimieson could not be around someone under the age of 10 without supervision.

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