An Eagan woman admitted Thursday to manslaughter in connection with allowing her boyfriend to punch her 3-year-old foster child in the stomach for weeks.
Zeporia Fortenberry, 32, pleaded guilty in Dakota County District Court to second-degree manslaughter, a felony count that involves child neglect through permitting a pattern of physical abuse of Zayden Lawson until his death in June 2017. A second manslaughter charge alleging child neglect or endangerment was dismissed.
Judge David Knutson immediately sentenced Fortenberry to a term of slightly less than 3½ years and ordered her to pay restitution and a $500 fine. With credit for time in jail since her arrest, Fortenberry will serve the first 2¼ years in prison and the balance on supervised release.
Charles W. Homich, 28, pleaded guilty in April to second-degree murder and is scheduled to be sentenced on Aug. 13.
“We are pleased to have held Zeporia Fortenberry responsible for her role in this tragic case that claimed the life of this little boy,” said County Attorney James Backstrom.
According to criminal complaints against the two:
Police and paramedics were summoned to Fortenberry’s home in the 1600 block of Oak Ridge Circle on the afternoon of June 7, 2017, after she said the boy had stopped breathing. She found Zayden that morning on the floor with vomit on the walls and his clothes, she said. The boy had complained throughout the day that his stomach hurt, she said.
Zayden had no pulse when paramedics arrived and was taken to Children’s Hospital in Minneapolis, where he was pronounced dead.
Fortenberry said she lived with her two biological children and two foster children, including Zayden and his younger brother.
She said she knew that Homich was punching Zayden for weeks before he died and that the little boy was “really scared” of her boyfriend, the complaints said.