Boyfriend gets prison in St. Paul tot's death

  • Article by: ANTHONY LONETREE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: January 4, 2012 - 11:21 PM

Demetrius Williams was sentenced for not aiding injured Julian James-Robert Williams.

Demetrius Willis

There had been two trials, two suspects and two acquittals for murder, leaving no one to pay for killing 2-year-old Julian James-Robert Williams in St. Paul in 2009.

A jury did convict one suspect -- the mother's boyfriend, Demetrius Willis, 24, of St. Paul -- of second-degree manslaughter for failing to get help for the dying toddler. On Wednesday, Willis was sentenced in Ramsey County District Court to 5 1/2 years in prison.

The deliberations required District Judge Gary Bastian to weigh a defense attorney's plea for probation against the prosecution's opposition to it.

But in a proceeding marked by long pauses and repeat questions, the judge spoke, too, of the frustration of overseeing two trials during which attorneys for both suspects -- mother and boyfriend -- pointed fingers in the other direction. Yet neither Willis nor the mother, Jessica Caldwell, could adequately explain the brutal injuries to the little boy.

"I don't believe the truth was found," Bastian said. "No one has ever stepped forward to say what happened."

In the end, he ultimately dismissed arguments that Caldwell was the true caretaker at the scene, thus excusing Willis of much of that responsibility, and ruled the boyfriend should be accountable for failing to assist a boy who the judge maintained had to be in extreme and immediate pain.

Julian died Sept. 10, 2009, after Caldwell went with him to Willis' home to spend the night. Bus footage from the previous evening showed Julian playing and laughing. Nine hours later, he was rushed to Children's Hospital, where he died. An autopsy revealed injuries that included a lacerated liver, a pancreas torn in half and bruises over his body.

Like Willis, Caldwell stood trial on seven murder and manslaughter charges. Last month, she was acquitted of all counts. In September, Willis was found guilty of second-degree manslaughter and acquitted of four counts of unintentional second-degree murder and two counts of first-degree manslaughter.

Caldwell did not attend Wednesday's sentencing. Her mother, Migdalia Baez, said that she was in Chicago with her grandmother.

Before Willis was sentenced, Baez told Bastian that her grandson's death left the family with great pain and emptiness. Afterward, she said she was satisfied with the prison term, and commended the judge, jury and attorneys for their care and concern.

David Miller, who prosecuted both cases with fellow assistant county attorney Karen Kugler, agreed with defense attorney Lisa Hallberg's contention that Willis' prior criminal record was less serious than appeared -- for sentencing purposes. Otherwise, the boyfriend could have faced as many as 84 months to 117 months in prison.

Miller said someone beat Julian that night, and for that crime, justice was left wanting. But he believed, he added, that Wednesday's sentence was appropriate for a second-degree manslaughter charge.

Willis told the judge that "my heart is and was in the right place that night," and he asked for leniency.

Bastian said that while Willis was a "respectful young man in court," he had to think, too, of a 2-year-old child, a boy who would've been in distress that the judge felt Willis never truthfully acknowledged.

"I don't think we really heard the story," Bastian said.

Anthony Lonetree • 612-875-0041

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