Criticism follows Kuhn case

HLN’s Nancy Grace focusing on sentence in baby’s death

Keywords: Poll question,

Media outlets and blogs from around the nation are criticizing District Court Judge Douglas Walker’s decision to sentence a “baby killer” to just 90 days in jail.

Walker, on Sept. 25, sentenced Dylan Kuhn to 90 days in jail for killing his infant daughter under a plea bargain that could have sent the 19-year-old Dolores man to prison for up to four years.

The judge cited Kuhn’s lack of a criminal history, his age and the likelihood that he would not be a repeat offender as some of the reasons for not sending him to prison.

Some of the blogs show photos of both Walker and Kuhn as well as photos of Kuhn’s daughter Sailor under headlines like “Outrage as Colorado Judge sentences baby killer to 90 days in jail” and “Fury after father, 19, who killed his baby daughter is given 90 days in jail because judge feels prison only creates repeat offenders.”

Most of the scathing articles target Walker and the light sentence he issued.

On Thursday, Bonnie Druker from the “Nancy Grace” show that airs on Headline News TV, called the Cortez Journal to inform the paper that it planned to do a segment on the Kuhn case and sentence he received from Walker.

Druker said HLN wanted to air the segment next Tuesday, and added the show plans to concentrate only on the lenient sentence it believes Kuhn received.

Stephanie Villafuerte, executive director of the Rocky Mountain Children’s Law Center out of Denver and a former prosecutor, was outraged at the sentence that included no prison time.

She said Kuhn would not even spend half of his 90-day sentence behind bars, and said it would be no surprise to her if he is released within a week with a GPS monitor attached to his ankle.

Villafuerte, who was chief of the child abuse division for five years as a prosecutor, has handled hundreds of child abuse cases, several that were similar to the Kuhn case.

She also took issue with the prosecuting attorney, saying he made a critical error in drafting the plea agreement that gave the judge the latitude of not imposing a prison sentence.

This, she said, was made possible by dismissing the child abuse charge for the plea to manslaughter, which she added should have never been done.

Kuhn, who was arrested in November 2011 after his daughter died, was originally charged with manslaughter and child abuse.

Besides the 90 days in jail, Kuhn was sentenced to four years probation, mental health and substance evaluation, a parenting class and treatment, and ordered not to be allowed to be alone with children under the age of 10, court costs and possible restitution.

Under the plea agreement the child abuse and DUI cases were dismissed.

Villafuerte said what she would have done, and has done in the past, is to offer a plea that included a prison sentence, but not to the length the child abuser would have received if convicted at trial.

“Frankly, I was surprised to see the plea bargain in that matter,” she said.

She said 22nd Judicial District Attorney Russell Wasley, who asked for the maximum four-year prison sentence, should not be surprised or disappointed with the final outcome because it was his office that drafted the plea agreement that gave Walker the option to sentence Kuhn to probation.

She said a child abuse death mandates a prison sentence, while a manslaughter charge does not carry the same punishment.

“Based on 10 years of doing this, five to 10 years (in prison) for this would be fairly typical,” she said. If the plea was not accepted, Villafuerte said she would take the case to trial where the sentencing range could increase substantially.

Villafuerte said she almost never criticizes prosecutors, but this time she is perplexed with how this case was handled by the local DA’s office.

“It’s just a plea bargain that I have not seen in my past,” she said.

When the executive director of the Rocky Mountain Children’s Law Center was prosecuting child abuse cases resulting in death, there was never a plea bargain where prison time was optional.

“If you want prison then you plead him to a prison sentence,” she said, and added the prosecutor in this case may not have wanted the maximum sentence for Kuhn, which took away a good bargaining chip.

She also said the case was cut and dried with a confession and medical examiner evidence, so a plea bargain was not really necessary because a conviction at trial would have been almost a certainty.

“I am shocked. It was a very provable case,” she said. “There were a lot of options that were available.”

Villafuerte said she has no idea what the judge did or why he ruled like he did in this particular case, but added a plea bargain should not be crafted to give a judge this type of leeway.

“It’s absurd. It’s ridiculous,” she said, adding a sentence of 90 days in jail for a child abuse killing diminishes the seriousness of the crime.

“This is a very serious crime and is the most serious crime in our society,” Villafuerte said.

A call seeking comment to Walker’s receptionist was not returned.