At an emotional court hearing Thursday morning, a former day-care provider from Eagan was sentenced to 45 days in jail for her role in the death of an infant in her care, Dane Ableidinger, and for trying to cover up her mistakes.
“If you had done what you were supposed to do, we wouldn’t be here,” Dakota County District Judge Michael Mayer told the provider, Beverly Greenagel. “You need to understand: Dane died because of your actions.”
The 3-month-old infant died on Aug. 18, 2011, after being placed face down on a blanket on the floor of Greenagel’s home — in direct violation of his parents’ wishes and of safe sleep standards that were a requirement of Greenagel’s child-care license. Greenagel was watching 21 children, more than allowed under state supervision requirements, when Ableidinger was found dead from what the county medical examiner later ruled as positional asphyxia.
While the sentence is substantially shorter than recommended under state guidelines for the felony manslaughter charge, Greenagel, 66, agreed to several other conditions — including that she give a presentation on the importance of safety guidelines to other child-care providers on the anniversary of Dane’s death every year for the next 10 years.
Greenagel also reportedly tried to cover up her mistakes by folding the bloodied blanket on which the baby died, and telling her 12-year-old helper to tell investigators that Ableidinger had been sleeping on his back and in a crib.
“Every choice Bev made was a selfish one,” said the baby’s father, Mac Ableidinger, during the hearing, “thinking only of protecting herself.”
Prosecutors and the grieving parents said they hope the punishment will send a message to other child-care providers that they need to follow the rules regarding safe sleeping and supervision. The tragedy was one of 11 home day-care deaths that year that prompted a Star Tribune investigative series, and then tougher regulations and state safety laws. Since that time, deaths have declined to a low of three last year.
Greenagel’s hesitance to accept responsibility for the incident was one reason the case languished long after Ableidinger’s death and after the Dakota County attorney’s office filed charges in July 2012.
Even after pleading guilty to second-degree manslaughter, Greenagel expressed reservations in a presentencing interview about whether she was responsible, which not only delayed her sentencing but prompted the prosecution to increase the amount of jail time from 30 to 45 days in the plea agreement.
Facing toward the judge and away from Greenagel, the baby’s parents described the stress and anxiety they have suffered since losing their son.
“It has been 945 days since my heart has felt whole,” said Stephanie Ableidinger, who suffered seizures and panic attacks after her son’s death.
Prosecutors acknowledged they would have struggled to prove some elements of the case in a trial. Greenagel’s attorney, Earl Gray, also was prepared to challenge the baby’s cause of death, which the medical examiner initially had ruled as undetermined. But Gray predicted that a jury would have been moved by Greenagel’s attempt at a coverup.
Facing the Ableidingers, their former day-care provider leaned over a microphone and read from a statement — afraid she wouldn’t be able to say the words she needed to say unless they were written down.
“My conduct caused the death of your child,” she said, “of your first child, Dane.”
Sheriff’s deputies took Greenagel into custody immediately to begin her sentence, though she paused to reach for her purse and jacket before being escorted to jail. Relatives at the hearing made plans to get into her home to pick up medications she started taking after the death and the revocation of her child-care license.
The judge said Greenagel might be a good person, but he couldn’t understand her actions that day, particularly the attempt to coerce her helper into lying to authorities.
“I’m never going to forget this case,” Mayer said. “It’s the hardest thing I’m doing in 10 years on the bench.”
After the ruling, Mayer joined the Ableidingers outside his courtroom to admire baby pictures of their lost son.