BELFAST, Maine — A Troy mother convicted of killing her 7-week-old son will spend 13 years in prison.
Superior Court Justice Robert Murray sentenced Hopkins to 18 years with five years suspended. She’ll follow her time in jail with four years of probation, during which she’ll be required to refrain from using drugs or alcohol and submit to random testing and counseling or treatment as needed.
Murray agreed to stay the sentence until Dec. 26, so Hopkins can spend Christmas with her father, who is in poor health. Hopkins will be placed under house arrest at her cousin’s home in Carmel, where she’s been staying while out on bail since her arrest 11 months ago.
Christopher MacLean, Hopkins’ defense attorney, said he has filed a notice of appeal in the case, but that he hasn’t determined whether he will follow through with an appeal. He said he feels the trial was handled fairly by the court.
On Jan. 12, Hopkins told police that she rolled over in bed to discover Jaxson’s cold, lifeless body. Neither she nor first responders could revive the baby.
Hopkins claimed to have no knowledge of what happened to Jaxson that night. She told investigating officers that she believed one of her two other sons, then ages 6 and 8, both of whom have been described as profoundly autistic and nonverbal, must have climbed over the baby gate, killed their youngest brother during the night, and put him back into the bed next to Hopkins. She maintained that claim throughout the trial. Both boys are now living with their father.
Police arrested Hopkins after several interviews and charged her with murder, but a grand jury indicted her on the lesser charge of manslaughter. Manslaughter is a Class A crime punishable by up to 30 years in prison.
Prosecutors argued that Hopkins was under stress after caring for two autistic sons and an infant. While she may have normally been a good mother, she made a “bad choice” on that night when Jaxson wouldn’t stop crying and shook and beat the infant. Hopkins admitted to having five to seven shots of whiskey earlier in the evening, as well as smoking marijuana and taking Benadryl.
Murray said her use of those substances influenced the sentence. The most aggravating factor in the sentence however, was Hopkins’ failure to take responsibility for Jaxson’s death by pointing the finger at her other two sons, Murray said.
“She has never said what she did to Jaxson to cause his injuries,” prosecutor and Assistant Attorney General Leane Zainea told the judge. Instead, she implicated her boys. “That stigma will stay with them forever.”
After her arrest, Hopkins told detectives she wanted to “come clean,” and relayed a story that differed from the one she shared originally. She said she passed out in her older sons’ bedroom while Jaxson was asleep alone in his bouncy chair in the cluttered trailer’s living room. She later got up to get an ice pack and went back to her own room at the other end of the trailer. When she woke up the next morning, Jaxson was dead next to her.
The state argued that the extensive injuries Jaxson suffered — head to toe bruises, a fractured skull, broken arm, broken ribs and bleeding around the spinal column, among others — were most likely caused by squeezing and shaking the infant and knocking his head against a hard surface.
The level of violence inflicted on an “utterly defenseless and vulnerable baby” also influenced the sentence, Murray said.
Multiple family members and friends of Hopkins, most of whom attended portions of the trial, spoke during sentencing, asking Murray for leniency. Several argued that Hopkins had already faced the worst punishment possible — the loss of all three of her children.
They described Hopkins as the “backbone” of her extended family and friends. They said Hopkins was the best mother she could be with the limited resources she had, and that she started a support group on Facebook for parents of autistic children.
Another mitigating factor was that Hopkins didn’t have any criminal history until Jan. 12, 2017. However, prosecutors read several social media messages indicating that Hopkins was illegally selling medical marijuana she grew in her home. MacLean said while Hopkins was violating the law in selling marijuana, she did so to pay bills and attempt to repair her car.
The judge reached the 13-year sentence by balancing all these factors.
Follow Nick McCrea on Twitter at @nmccrea213.
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