Jury returns guilty verdict in infant’s death
By James D. Wolf Jr. Post-Tribune correspondent November 15, 2013 8:46PM
Updated: December 17, 2013 6:19AM
VALPARAISO — A rural Valparaiso man faces 20 to 50 years in prison on two felony charges after he was found guilty Friday of causing the death of a 7-month-old.
Jurors deliberated about four hours before finding Benjamin W. Willis II, 25, guilty of Class A felony neglect of a dependent and Class A felony battery but not guilty of Class C felony battery.
Porter County Superior Court Judge Roger Bradford will sentence Willis at 1 p.m. Dec. 16.
Defense attorney Clay Patton said he would have to confer with Willis but was sure his client would exercise his right to an appeal.
The incident that caused the death of Keagan Fishel happened March 8, 2012, and Deputy Porter County Prosecutor Trista Hudson’s case was that Willis had lost his temper when the child woke him up and punched the child in the back of the head.
Patton presented a different story, where the child’s mother dropped the 25-pound child while she was holding him in the shower, then put him in bed.
The Class C felony was for a separate incident that happened in February that year, shortly after the mother, Sasha Sobates, moved in with Willis.
Sobates told police that they stopped at a gas station on the way back from South Bend, and she went in to get water for the baby’s bottle and found the baby crying in pain and having bruises later.
Hudson presented this as a pattern of abuse and said in closing arguments that the blow that ended in the baby dying two days later was a result of stress from possible loss of his trailer and a custody battle over his daughter.
The defense focused on whether the baby slipped in the tub while getting a bath with his older brother — which prosecution experts said was harmless — or was dropped while showering with mom, and Patton argued that she used both “shower” and “bath” during her testimony.
Patton had called one witness Friday, a Sobates family friend, Melissa Mihal, who testified that Sasha Sobates told her after talking to police that she had dropped Keagan while holding him in the shower.
He also noted that the prosecution’s witnesses said the baby had healing ribs that were broken long before the child lived in Willis’ home.