MOORHEAD — A Minnesota woman who admitted to beating her foster baby to death in what prosecutors called a "vicious, animalistic attack" last year was sentenced on Friday, June 18, to 35 years in prison, a sentence agreed upon earlier by lawyers in the case as part of a plea agreement.
Kellie Jo Anderson, 36, of Barnesville, pleaded guilty May 3, in Clay County District Court to a second-degree felony murder charge that accused her of killing 18-month-old Henry Thomas Anderson without intent when she assaulted him at her home on April 24, 2020. In exchange for the plea agreement, the original second-degree murder charge that said she killed the child with intent was dismissed.
Under Minnesota law, Anderson is expected to serve about 23 years, or two-thirds of her sentence in prison, and the remaining third on supervised release.
Before Clay County District Court Judge Jade Rosenfeldt handed down Kellie Jo Anderson's sentence Friday, the judge heard from many of Henry Anderson's relatives, including his grandmother, Kayla Anderson.
Anderson said she visited her grandson when he was in the hospital following the April 2020 incident that led to his death and she told other relatives in the courtroom — many of whom wore T-shirts bearing the words, "Justice for Henry" — that she gave the little boy a kiss for each of them.
"Every single one of you gave him a kiss that day in his hospital bed," Kayla Anderson said.
"Our hearts ache," she added. "Day after day, they ache."
The victim impact statement was one of many shared in the courtroom Friday.
Sarah Lohse, Henry Anderson's cousin, provided a statement of her own and read statements for other relatives.
Lohse said she has tried therapy to try to banish the guilt she has felt since Henry Anderson's death, stating she felt guilty for many things, including not trying harder to become the child's permanent caregiver when she had the chance, for not seeing through Kellie Jo Anderson's "fake shell," and for letting Henry down.
"I still feel guilty," a tearful Lohse said.
Before being sentenced, Kellie Jo Anderson read from a prepared statement, much of which was not discernible by those in the courtroom.
However, at one point she said clearly, "I am very sorry."
In sentencing Anderson, Rosenfeldt said the injuries she inflicted on the 18-month-old "can only be described as heinous," and she explained that the 35-year sentence was a significant upward departure from state sentencing guidelines and only permissible because of the severe aggravating circumstances of the case.
At her plea hearing in May, Kellie Jo Anderson wept as she recalled the events that led up to the baby's death.
Initially, she told police the child threw himself several times from the bath to the toilet, which she claimed is how he injured his mouth, according to court documents.
Anderson, who is a nurse, said during her plea hearing that she kept the child home from day care the day he died because he was running a fever. She said she couldn’t recall the exact order of events because she was on medication that clouded her memory.
She said she did remember noticing that Henry had cut his mouth while she was giving him a bath and was frustrated because she couldn’t stop the bleeding.
Then she hit him multiple times, she told the court.
“I don’t know exactly why I did what I did,” Anderson said. “I don’t know why I reacted like that.”
The baby was not breathing before Anderson drove him to the Sanford Medical Center in Fargo, she said. She performed CPR and then got into the vehicle, she said.
Prosecutor Pamela Lee Foss told Rosenfeldt Friday that Anderson has tried to minimize her actions by claiming drug use, but she said there is no evidence to support that claim.
Foss said it is believed Henry Anderson was dead before he left the house where the assault occurred and she said it was a miracle medical workers were able to briefly revive him after he reached the hospital.
Henry Anderson, she told the judge, was beaten to death by the person he trusted the most.
According to Foss, the boy had multiple injuries, including a fractured jaw, broken ribs, massive internal bleeding and injuries to the child’s genital region.
Kellie Jo Anderson and her husband had planned to adopt Henry, who was born with methamphetamine in his system, according to court documents. The child was given up voluntarily by his mother, who is related to Anderson’s husband.
The husband was not charged.