An Eagan in-home day-care provider convicted of assaulting a 13-month-old boy in her care, leaving him with permanent brain damage, was facing years in prison but got 90 days in jail instead.
Mariel A. Grimm, 33, was also sentenced by Dakota County District Judge David Knutson to 60 days of electronic home monitoring, 30 days on a supervised work crew and 15 years probation.
The sentence was a significant downward departure from state guidelines. Grimm could have received a term of seven-plus years.
The sentence also calls for her to perform another 200 hours of community service and pay a $1,000 fine and restitution to the family of William Merchant. The boy survived the injuries that sent him to the hospital in September 2016, but he suffered permanent brain damage.
Defense attorney Marc Kurzman said Knutson outlined in court several reasons he chose not to send Grimm to prison. They included that “she is significantly different from any other individuals who have committed the same offense” and findings in the presentence investigation, psychological findings about the defendant and the many letters of support for her received by the court.
Jessica Merchant, William’s mother, told the court in a victim impact statement that “what [Grimm] did to Will has caused our lives to be irreparably changed. ... We continue to learn in waves just how terrible his brain injury was. ... It’s a true miracle ... that he is even alive and progressing.”
In his own victim impact statement made before sentencing, the boy’s father, John Merchant, said the “devastation that [Grimm] caused will be with us for the rest of our lives. ... I ask for the maximum sentence for her. Prison is far less harsh than what she did to Will,” who turned 2 on Aug. 12.
Grimm steadfastly has denied harming the boy.
“The thought of not seeing my kids was unbearable,” Grimm, the mother of four, said Thursday, “especially because I didn’t do this.”
Grimm said she suspects the severe injuries came when the boy fell multiple times while not under her care.
In a statement following sentencing, County Attorney James Backstrom praised the medical experts who testified at the trial, which contributed to jurors convicting Grimm in July.
“These experts concluded that the severe brain injury the child suffered was consistent with abusive head trauma,” Backstrom said. “The jury’s verdict reflects conclusions reached by these experts and that the defendant caused the abusive trauma.” Backstrom declined to answer questions about his reaction to the sentence.
An appeal by the defense is in the works, Grimm said, adding that her parental rights are challenged in family court.
Grimm called 911 on Sept. 22, 2016, to report that the boy was unresponsive. She said the boy woke up crying, she changed his diaper and then placed him in a pack-and-play carrier before home-schooling her four children.
He awoke “stiff ... and unresponsive,” the criminal complaint read, and that’s when Grimm called 911 and the child’s mother.
A doctor’s exam revealed bleeding on the brain that indicated the boy had been violently shaken or thrown, the complaint continued.
A GoFundMe page on behalf of the parents last gave an update about their boy’s medical care 3½ months after his hospitalization. The posting signed by his parents noted that the child was breathing on his own and surgery made his head look “much more rounded again, which makes him look much more like himself.”
Those who wrote letters to the judge pleaded for no prison time and asked that Grimm not be separated from children, who range in age from 2 to 8.
Lisa Duppong, who worked with Grimm at a St. Paul church preschool, said the jurors’ verdict was “unbelievable. I would never think it possible for Mariel to hurt anyone. ... I would not think twice to have her watch my newly born grandchild if the need was presented, even with this conviction.”