A Madison County tragedy begins to close, as a negligent babysitter was sentenced for her involvement in the death of an infant.
Jessica Carter, 35, of London, was sentenced by Judge Eamon Costello to 90 days in Tri-County Regional Jail, starting Monday, followed by five years of post-release community control.
As part of that community control, she was given 80 hours of community service, which she will serve at various hospitals, day cares and more to inform parents of the tragedy of Noah Hagmeier, the seven-month-old infant in her care who died.
“So you will be serving a community service component specifically tailored to try to prevent this unfortunate incident and prevent others from getting into a similar situation,” he said.
She was not banned from running a day care in her home, but is now required by the court to inform any potential client that she has this conviction and what occurred. She would not have to do so for a public day care provider, as they would find out through a simple background check.
“On a personal note, nothing I can say that can fill the void,” said her attorney Mike Murray. “We often hear what sometimes tragic things happen to good people and I think this is one of those situations.”
He asked the court to have Carter’s sentence be community control, per previous recommendations.
Assistant Prosecutor Nicholas Adkins agreed that Carter should be placed under community control, but felt this case deserved more penalties, citing the seriousness of the matter.
“I’ve heard situations like this referred to as a ‘tragic accident,’” he said. “While I agree it was tragic, accident implies no one was at fault, and I do not believe that to be true. We are here today because of recklessness.”
Jennifer Hagmeier, Noah’s mother had the same sentiment.
“Ms. Carter’s friends and family posted on the internet that this was just a terrible accident, it could have happened to anybody,” she told the court. “But she didn’t trip over the dog and fall with the baby. I don’t think I will ever understand why that day happened.
“She had hundreds of hours of training and hundreds and hundreds of hours of experience on how to take care of a baby. But for whatever reason, she put my son in a crib full of blankets with no monitor, walking around … and he died a slow painful death while she was 20 feet away.”
Hagmeier said the family only agreed to a plea deal because they could not sit through a trial listening to medical details and everything else.
Adkins made three recommendations for sentencing, a jail term at Tri-County and that Carter not be permitted to work or run a day care as well as be prohibited from being a foster parent.
Costello took this information, but felt there was a caveat.
“These kinds of cases are absolutely heartbreaking, regardless of how you assess what took place,” said Costello. “We have the worst possible consequence in the eyes of the law, the loss of life. We have an offense, regardless of how you assess the fact pattern, was not an intended result. Those two items are at opposite ends of the criminal system.”
In addition to her prior years living a law abiding life, Carter’s clear remorse was a factor in the sentencing.
“It has been made clear from numerous other statements that if you could change this result you would,” said Costello. “And there is no questioning you are sincerely sorrowful for what happened.”
When asked by the judge if she had anything to say before sentencing, Carter responded with remorse.
“I just want to tell her I’m sorry. I love Noah, I love all you guys and I’m sorry for what happened,” she said.
A mother’s testament
As requested by Adkins, Mrs. Hagmeier, supported by her husband Jeffery, approached the rail and spoke to the court about how wounded her family felt.
Mrs. Hagmeier said that the 10 years worth of experience with children, made her feel her children were safe with Carter.
“I liked her. My kids loved her. And I trusted her completely. I bragged about her the night before Noah died,” she added. “To people I was visiting [about] how lucky I was. Now we don’t trust anyone anymore, because we’re no longer sure we’re making good decisions.”
Now the family will only trust preschools with multiple teachers watching each other, or Mrs. Hagmeier will simply stay home and forgo working. She said this will cost the family $15,000 year in income, but feels it is worth it.
“It is a quantifiable impact but it is by far the least important impact to our family,” she said.
She mentioned how much the death impacted her children. One of her sons suffers from disabilities and mentioned how he lost another part of his familial support network and “probably would never remember he had a brother.”
Her stepson hasn’t mentioned Noah’s name in over a year.
Her youngest son was the most troubled.
“He thought before this only old people died and he was quickly taught otherwise,” she said. “Now he constantly asks for reassurance all the time now, to ensure we’re not going anywhere. He asks his teacher questions he knows will upset us.”
“He only knows that he can’t go to [Carter’s] place anymore because she couldn’t keep Noah safe,” she added. “He doesn’t think anyone can keep him safe anymore.”
Costello said he sympathized with her plight.
“When I was 13, I lost my eight-year-old brother,” he said. “And watched very closely what it was like for parents to lose a child. When I was a child, I don’t think I could fully appreciate that. But as a sibling, it felt the same to me.”
On May 19, 2016, Carter was caring for 7-month-old Hagmeier in her home. She set the infant into a Pack ’N Play crib to sleep while she attended to other children in her care. Later, he was reported not breathing.
The baby was found face down and unresponsive in a portable crib, according to Detective Greg Perkins of the London Police Department.
He was declared dead at 11:03 a.m. at the Madison Health emergency room.
There were several blankets and a large comforter in the crib with the baby, even though the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention urge that children under the age of one sleep in a completely empty crib.
“The investigation also revealed that the victim’s mother had requested that there be no blankets placed with Noah,” said Costello during the hearing.
The Montgomery County Coroner’s Office determined asphyxiation as the cause of death.
In November, Carter was charged with reckless homicide and endangering children, both third-degree felonies.
In April, she pleaded no contest to an amended charge of attempted endangering children, a fourth-degree felony in Madison County Common Pleas Court. A single count of reckless homicide, a third-degree felony, was dropped by prosecutors as part of the deal.
A no contest plea is different than a guilty plea in that it leaves the door open for the family to sue Carter in civil court.
The tragedy inspired a community service project. The Hagmeier family used monetary donations received as seed money for an all-accessible park in Noah’s honor.
Using the family’s initial $15,000 as leverage, the London Community Organization is hoping to turn the Hagmeiers’ tragedy into something much bigger and wonderful: a $400,000 playground made for children with all abilities.
The project has been named Access Cowling.
The plan is to break up the construction and cost into five phases. The first phase is already in place. It includes a five-foot-wide multi-purpose path connecting the parking lot to the shelter house and basketball court, as well as two swings (one of which is molded with a plastic harness), five activity boards and a kiosk, which will include information about the project.
The second phase, the first large piece of playground equipment, is expected to be installed this year.
However, during the hearing, Mrs. Hagmeier said that nothing the court or the public did could bring her son back. Nothing from the court or any money could bring back that loss.
“But the person who lost [the most], is Noah,” she said. “Noah would be 19 months old now. Noah was not just a baby who died, as it was put in the newspapers. He was a strong willed little boy who loved to laugh and squeal, who looked at us like he wasn’t sure if he knew what we were doing, who should have got to have a birthday party, to go swimming, to play outside and falling when running around with his brothers now.”
Maximilian Kwiatkowski can be reached at 740-852-1616, ext. 1617 or on Twitter @MSFKwiat.