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(Writer’s note: Throughout the proceedings, family members read their victim impact statements, discussing the heartbreak they’ve felt and their hopes for justice. These statements were extremely personal and impactful to those in the courtroom and will not be included in this story due to a need to protect their privacy.)
Nearly three years after Shy Ann Hentges took actions that resulted in the death of her 2-month-old son, she’s been sentenced to 12 1/2 years in jail during a court proceeding Feb. 20 at the Isanti County Government Center.
“What do you say about a life that lasted from Feb. 3, 2017, to April 5, 2017; a life in duration was less time from when court issued the verdict to sentencing,” opened Isanti County Attorney Jeff Edblad. “You don’t talk about a life well lived, you talk about those lost first experiences. In talking about a life of two months, we don’t know what life would’ve held for Eli. His mother threw him into the wall and left him to die in his bed. This was completely, totally and absolutely preventable in every way, shape and form.”
During the early morning hours of April 5, 2017, Hentges made the choices that would ultimately end the life of her young son, Eli Gage Arispe Hentges. Later, around 10:50 a.m., Hentges made the 911 call about her son not breathing, according to the criminal complaint. Upon first responder arrival, it was determined Eli was deceased. Isanti County Judge John Klossner found Hentges guilty of felony second-degree murder, without intent, via court order on Dec. 3, 2019.
During the Feb. 20 sentencing, Hentges’ attorneys Brice Norton and Drake Metzger made the argument that Hentges had suffered from fetal alcohol syndrome. A motion to the court had been made the week prior to sentencing to continue the date into the future so Hentges could obtain a report from an expert on the condition.
“We felt we needed addition time for a report,” Metzger said.
The motion was denied by Klossner.
“To be quite frank, I felt it was untimely, so I denied it,” Klossner said.
Edblad noted the guilty verdict had come in December 2019, giving adequate enough time, according to him, for the defense to complete the expert report.
Both the prosecution and defense agreed Hentges may have had a difficult childhood, but Edblad argued that alone doesn’t cause a person to commit the acts Hentges was found guilty of.
“I think it’s incredibly important to keep something in mind judge: Shy Ann didn’t win the genetic lottery, but she had an incredible support system in her life,” Edblad said.
Edblad noted the full court room, with family that had been there for Hentges, and people who still are looking to support her.
“This is a woman sitting in front of the court with a support system to rely on,” Edblad said, also explaining there are laws in place that also assist overwhelmed parents and offer a safe option for children. “Rather than use the support system, the defendant threw this 2-month-old baby and left him to die in his bed.”
Edblad also continued to note the lack of remorse he felt Hentges had displayed through multiple inappropriate phone conversations to her boyfriend, as well as the fact that she’d scheduled a tattoo appointment for later in the day after her sentencing.
The defense argued her feelings of remorse and suggested she was “amenable to probation,” according to Metzger.
Edblad then pointed out multiple infractions and the disciplinary history Hentges had established while in custody, arguing that “if you can’t follow the rules of a closed facility, how will you follow the rules of society.”
“The defendant has shown by her conduct, while in custody, that she’s not amenable to probation,” Edblad said. “This is a case where prison is warranted, where prison is called for.”
The defense responded by again noting the struggles Hentges faced while growing up, including being “born into a hostile family with her two parents until 11, when she went into foster care,” according to Metzger.
While in foster care, Hentges flourished and was a part of school groups, until age 21 when she moved back in with her parents and the downward spiral began.
According to Metzger, Hentges met her boyfriend and was in an abusive relationship, which led to drug activity until she found out she was pregnant. Arguing, due to fetal alcohol syndrome, Hentges was operating at a functional level of a 14-year-old rather than a 26-year-old, Metzger asked for prison time to be avoided.
“If Ms. Hentges is sent to prison, her FAS makes her unamenable to prison, making her susceptible to becoming a victim,” Metzger said. “I think the conflict here is once she gets to prison that downward spiral will continue.
“Put her on probation, hang time over her head, that’s what’s going to help her,” Metzger added. He also requested a downward departure to the sentence. “I think everyone would benefit more if she’s given the opportunity to change, to flourish, to be better.”
Metzger also noted the cap of 150 months for her sentencing, and with a downward departure and the fact that Hentges was, according to him, amenable to probation, he requested she be released immediately.
Hentges was then asked for comment.
“Your honor, thank you for allowing me to express my feelings of remorse,” Hentges said. “I never in a million years had intention of harming my son — he was the love of my life. There isn’t a day or night that goes by he’s not in my thoughts or dreams.”
She went on to discuss all of the experiences she would miss with Eli, and the fact that she would grieve his death for the rest of her life.
“I will never be able to forgive myself for what I did, nor do I expect anyone else to,” Hentges concluded.
Before sentencing Hentges, Klossner had final statements for her and the packed courtroom.
“Mr. Metzger said that this case is easy to call a tragedy and sort of move on. I don’t think there’s anything easy about this. If you folks are here to look for me to say something wise or to make sense of this, you’re in the wrong spot; I don’t have anything for you. If you are here looking for a sentence that will make you feel better about why you are here, I don’t have that,” Klossner said. “We have a 2-month-old child, and I don’t think there are adequate words to describe that. It’s another level of awful when that death comes from the hands of a parent, and like I said, I don’t have the tools to make sense of it for any one of you. I’m not sure I have the tools to make sense of it for myself.”
“Ms. Hentges had to walk a road tougher than anyone should have to. You don’t choose your parents, you don’t choose where you are born; certainly Ms. Hentges bares the scars of that,” Klossner added.
He also noted he’d taken into consideration the reality of fetal alcohol syndrome and the discussions throughout the proceedings in regard to what’s best for Hentges. He also made note that although Hentges talked about not having help, she’s had family by her side throughout the proceedings.
“I agree with Mr. Edblad, this was something that was eminently preventable. The defense has argued, among other things, that Ms. Hentges is particularly amenable to probation and she is functioning at the level of a 14-year-old and lacks the insight of her behaviors, which is why she didn’t reach out, why she didn’t adhere to the rules in custody,” Klossner said. “There are many, too many folks in the world, quite frankly, that suffer the same afflictions that Ms. Hentges has, but are able to raise their child without harming them.”
Explaining he was also troubled by some of the discussions Hentges had while in custody about her intentions to participate in illegal substance use, as well as prescription drugs, upon release, Klossner explained his decline for departing from sentencing guidelines.
“The court cannot find that there are substantial reasons to depart from the sentencing guidelines. I don’t think Eli would’ve reached his 10th birthday by the guidelines here,” Klossner said as he looked to Hentges before sentencing her to 12 1/2 years, with credit for 2 years and 42 days served, and $135 in fees and fines, with 8 1/3 years to be served in prison and a little over 4 years on supervised probation.