Portage man gets 40-year sentence in death of infant
BY JAMES D. WOLF JR. Post-Tribune correspondent December 17, 2013 3:16PM
Updated: January 19, 2014 11:42AM
VALPARAISO — From the witness stand at his sentencing, Benjamin W. Willis II maintained innocence in the death of 7-month-old Keagan Fishel.
The 25-year-old Portage man also used Monday’s sentencing to dispute allegations about his temper.
“I have never understood this from day one,” Willis said. “This whole thing has been wrong since day one.”
He plans to appeal his conviction for Class A felony battery and 40-year sentence without probation.
Willis also said the truth would come out on judgment day.
A jury found Willis guilty on Nov. 15 of hitting the child’s head on March 8, 2012, apparently because the child cried, although defense attorney Clay Patton argued the mother admittedly dropped Keagan during a shower.
In his statement, Willis said he took Sasha Sobates and her two children in because he didn’t like how they lived, and he wanted to raise the kids as his stepdad raised him.
He said he’s a good father who tried to contact his toddler daughter — the light of his life — often while in jail.
A relative caused the holes in his trailer walls, and he explained accounts of him punching objects in front his former girlfriend.
The fence happened after he’d picked her up at a party where two guys almost raped her, and he never hit them, Willis said.
He punched a refrigerator when he saw her leave with his best friend, whom she had an affair with.
Porter County Deputy Prosecutor Trista Hudson went after Willis’s character during her arguments, showing that he lied about how often he talked to his parents from jail and didn’t acknowledge that he had a second child born about the time the trial began, as well as testimony of him being verbally abusive to the mother of that child.
Hudson showed a video of Willis and his father talking at Porter County Jail while a baby cried in the background.
“Can you smack that little kid,” Willis can be heard asking his father on the tape.
Both sides agreed that the two Class A felonies the jury found Willis guilty of — battery and neglect of a dependent — were redundant, and he should be sentenced only on one.
Porter County Superior Court Judge Roger Bradford chose the battery charge and added 10 years to the presumptive sentence of 30 years.
The judge said Keagan’s age and Willis’s position of trust were aggravating factors, but he didn’t consider testimony about Willis’s anger.
“It’s clear that he’s got a temper, and it’s clear that he’s got to keep it under control, but there’s no evidence that he’s battered a person,” Bradford said.