A Dakota County judge on Monday noted the helplessness of a 9-month-old victim when he sentenced Michael Frederick Schmidt of Hastings to an unusually long term -- 27 years -- for first-degree criminal sexual conduct.

Schmidt, 42, will serve 18 years in prison and nine years on supervised release for the assault last April on a young relative of his wife's, Judge Joseph Carter said.

After the April 24 injury at the Schmidts' home, the infant needed extensive reconstructive surgery. A surgeon testified that the girl, now 16 months old, has fully recovered from the worst such injuries he's seen in a child that age.

Michael Schmidt maintains that the baby was injured accidentally during diaper changing when he tried to grab her as she rolled off a couch.

The sentencing in Hastings included emotional statements from the baby's parents, who told the judge the assault has ripped apart their extended family.

Both parents are in counseling, they said. And while doctors say their daughter is making a "thriving recovery," the mother said she still worries about the future:

"Will she have apprehension to things and not know why? Will she have any issues being able to produce children of her own because of scar tissue or other complications? Will she find out about this and need therapy in the future to deal with emotional issues that present themselves? The unknown frightens me in the midst of celebrating the blessing of her recovery."

A jury had found aggravating circumstances, including cruelty and the victim's vulnerability. That led Carter to sentence Schmidt to a term more than double that recommended under state sentencing guidelines. Carter also ordered that Schmidt register as a sex offender, pay restitution and stay away from the victim and her family. He credited Schmidt for 167 days served in jail.

"We are pleased to have brought Michael Schmidt to justice for this egregious act of sexual violence against this extremely vulnerable victim," Dakota County Attorney James Backstrom said Monday.

Schmidt's mother said they'll appeal, and his attorney said new information could be used, including his wife's recent recanting of some of her testimony.

During the trial last September, Tracy Schmidt, 36, had given testimony about the incident that she had never before mentioned to the defense attorney. She said she had taken the victim's sister and the Schmidts' 7-year-old daughter to a park that day, leaving her husband and the victim home alone.

But now, Tracy Schmidt said in an interview, she is sure she was mistaken; she said it was the week before when she went to the park, on a day when the victim wasn't at their home.

Last week, Hastings Police Chief Paul Schnell said investigators have been taking a new look at the case after receiving copies of letters that Tracy Schmidt's mother, Sandy Benham, and Michael Schmidt's mother, Cathy Schmidt, wrote to the judge.

Benham is asking for further investigation into an assault on Tracy Schmidt's baby boy in 1994; she suggests that Michael Schmidt was innocent but took the rap because he was drunk and had memory lapses, and because Tracy Schmidt told him he had hurt the baby.

Court documents at the time described both Michael Schmidt and his future wife as suspects in her son's abuse and noted discrepancies in her story. Both were charged and the baby was taken away. Charges against Tracy Schmidt were dismissed in August 1995 after Michael Schmidt pleaded guilty to child endangerment.

In an interview, Michael Schmidt said he pleaded guilty to the misdemeanor so that a felony charge would be dismissed. He thought he must have hurt the baby boy when he stumbled and dropped him in a crib, he said.

Carter noted the 1994 assault during Michael Schmidt's sentencing Monday.

Afterward, outside the courtroom, the baby girl's father expressed gratitude for the work of Hastings police and prosecutor Nicole Nee.

"The whole situation is just the saddest thing I have ever been through," he said. "I'm just glad we can put it behind us and move on."

Joy Powell • 952-882-9017