Morton to serve 4½ years for death of child
WILLMAR -- Elaine Morton, 28, of Willmar will serve a minimum of 4 1/2 years in prison for assaulting and causing the death by asphyxiation of 4-month-old Maria Galvan.
WILLMAR -- Elaine Morton, 28, of Willmar will serve a minimum of 4½ years in prison for assaulting and causing the death by asphyxiation of 4-month-old Maria Galvan.
Kandiyohi County District Judge Kathryn Smith issued separate sentences on Thursday to Morton on convictions for first-degree assault and second-degree manslaughter in the Dec. 16, 2004, death of the child that she was babysitting. The judge allowed the sentences to be served concurrently.
On the first degree-assault conviction, Judge Smith sentenced Morton to 91 months, ordering that two-thirds or 60 months of that time be served in prison and the remainder on supervised release. She allowed the defendant credit for the 204 days already served in jail.
On the manslaughter conviction, she sentenced Morton to 72 months, ordering that two-thirds or 48 months of that time be served in prison and the remainder on supervised release.
She also ordered the defendant to make an undetermined amount of restitution to Maria Galvan's mother, Santos Galvan Azua, pay a $50 fine and make a $3,000 contribution from her prison earnings to a camp for children who have lost loved ones.
State sentencing guidelines gave Judge Smith the option of imposing anywhere from 81 months to 91 months on the assault conviction, and the judge chose the longer sentence.
She did not depart upward from the sentencing guidelines as sought by the prosecution. Kandiyohi County Assistant Attorney Connie Crowell argued that aggravating factors warranted a doubling of the recommended sentence to put her in prison for nearly 10 years.
In issuing the sentence, Judge Smith told Morton that she believed the defendant was "very sorry'' for her actions.
She said the sentence must reflect the fact that a baby was killed.
Only minutes earlier, the mother of the child had asked the court "to give her the punishment she deserves, please.''
"Don't let her out before her time, before the sentence is up,'' Santos Galvan Azua told the court.
The Spanish speaking Galvan Azua told the court through an interpreter that she has lost her job, is unable to sleep, lacks energy and cries much of the time due to the loss of her child. "It breaks my heart and soul to talk about my daughter and not have her here with me,'' she said.
She also expressed her concern that Morton would receive a more lenient sentence because the victim and her family are Hispanic and do not speak English.
Prosecutor Crowell told the court that the extreme vulnerability of the victim, the particular cruelty of the crime, and the fact that Morton held a position of trust were all factors that justified an upward departure from sentencing guidelines.
Maria Galvin experienced the pain of a skull fracture, and her death by asphyxiation was not quick and involved considerable suffering, according to Crowell. She told the court that the defendant smothered the infant as she sang lullabies and "pushed her face into something.''
Crowell said Morton should have sought help for Maria Galvan after causing her skull fracture, apparently after bumping her against a crib. The child could have survived the injury, although it was severe enough that it would have caused her life-long health problems, according to the prosecutor.
Crowell also told the court that Morton took no action to give or seek help when the child "went lifeless'' in her hands.
Defense Attorney John Holbrook asked for leniency for the defendant. He told the court that Morton continues to maintain her innocence of criminal responsibility and that the death was not intentional. But he told the court: "I assure you she is grief stricken over this incident.''
Prior to receiving her sentence, Morton told the court between sobs that she was sorry.
Judge Smith urged the defendant to take advantage of counseling and chemical dependency treatment services while in prison.
Speaking after the proceeding, Crowell said she was pleased that the court had imposed the maximum sentence as allowed by state guidelines. She noted that it has become difficult if not impossible for courts to depart upward from the sentencing guidelines.
Crowell repeated her stance that a sentence longer than recommended by the guidelines would be justified. ''It's for Maria,'' she said. "The baby and that mother serve a life sentence.''
Prior to the sentencing itself, the judge denied motions by the defense asking for acquittal on both the assault and manslaughter charges. Judge Smith reiterated that she had found proof beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant had committed separate assault and manslaughter offenses as evidenced by the skull fracture and asphyxiation.
The judge also said that she is convinced Morton is responsible for the injury and death. No one other than the defendant had access to the child for six hours prior to the time of death, she explained.
The defendant will be serving her time at the Minnesota Correctional Facility in Stillwater. She will return to court in Kandiyohi County next month on check forgery charges.