VALPARAISO | A Liberty Township man maintained his plea of not guilty Monday as he was sentenced to 40 years behind bars in connection with the death of his girlfriend's 7-month-old son.
"I feel for you," Benjamin Willis II told the crowd gathered in the courtroom, which included the boy's mother. "But this whole thing has been has been wrong since Day One."
"I know I did not do this to this child," he said.
Willis told the court he intends to appeal.
A jury found the 25-year-old guilty last month of Class A felony charges of neglect of dependent and battery.
Willis denies injuring Keagan Fishel, who died March 10, 2012, of blunt force trauma to the head after suffering multiple skull fractures and hemorrhages resulting from "violent and extremely forceful" action, according to court documents. The prosecution said Willis caused the injuries a few days prior to the child's death.
The child's mother, Sasha Sabates, told the court Monday about the pain of losing her son and never knowing who he would have grown up to be.
"This man has literally taken everything from me," she said.
She teared up as she wondered aloud what the boy could have done to provoke Willis.
"My sweet baby boy did not deserve this," Sabates said.
Sabates told police she found her son March 8 in his crib and saw he had vomited on himself and looked very pale, documents show. Sabates said she discovered the injuries after taking a shower, during which time Willis was still in bed, police said.
Willis offered alternative explanations, including that a former girlfriend sneaked into the house, the boy fell or Sabates dropped him during a bath, documents state.
Willis chose not to testify during the trial on his own behalf.