Seymour woman gets four years in fatal stabbing of her child's father

Seymour woman gets four years in fatal stabbing of her child's father

URBANA — A Seymour woman who fatally stabbed the father of her child more than a year ago is headed to prison — but not for long enough to mollify the suffering of his family, who have disagreed from the start with the way the case has been prosecuted.

In a courtroom crowded with angry, sad people, Sarah Kijanowski, 27, pleaded guilty this morning to a single count of second-degree murder. She admitted that on Jan. 21, 2016, she stabbed Chase Yets to death at the home they shared in Seymour.

She was sentenced to the minimum sentence of four years in prison and will have to serve 50 percent of that. Given credit for time served since her arrest on Jan. 26, 2016, Kijanowski could be eligible for release from prison in four months. She could have received 20 years in prison.

"This is a life sentence for us because for the rest of our lives, we will feel like justice has not been served," said Mr. Yets' mother, Melisa.

The 27-year-old man's family has vehemently disagreed with the decision of State's Attorney Julia Rietz and her staff to not charge Kijanowski with first-degree murder from the start of the case.

A ruling by Judge Heidi Ladd in mid-June reinforced their frustration. Ladd said that prosecutors would not be allowed to admit evidence of other acts of domestic violence aimed at Mr. Yets by Kijanowski because it would not be relevant to the charge of second-degree murder.

The charge alleged that at the time she killed Mr. Yets, she believed circumstances existed that would "justify or exonerate the killing but that the belief was unreasonable."

When Kijanowski was charged, First Assistant State's Attorney Steve Ziegler said the evidence was that the couple was arguing, that Mr. Yets allegedly pushed her and that she took a knife and stabbed him once in the chest as he came toward her.

Kijanowski was also charged with involuntary manslaughter that alleged "while acting in a reckless manner, performed an act that was likely to cause the death ..." of Mr. Yets. That less-serious count was dismissed as part of her plea agreement.

Ladd said that the state's attorney, by choosing to charge second-degree rather than first-degree murder, was conceding that Kijanowski believed she was acting in self-defense.

Unlike other kinds of cases, the burden of proving self-defense shifts to the defendant when the charge is first-degree murder.

Evidence of prior acts of violence in which she used a knife, Ladd said, would not address her mental state at the time of the fatal stabbing.

"If the state proved the defendant acted with premeditation, or malice, or intent to kill for no justifiable reason ... or with deliberateness as part of an ongoing pattern of violence and abuse towards the decedent, that would prove first-degree murder. That would establish then that (Kijanowski) was the aggressor, and negate the state's own case as charged here, because self-defense is not available to someone who initiates the aggression."

Even with the benefit of hindsight, Rietz stands by her charging decision.

"Our initial charging decision was made based on all of the evidence of the actual night in question as well as background evidence about their relationship," Rietz said.

She said defense attorney Jim Martinkus of Champaign had shared information with the state about other unreported incidents of domestic violence between the two.

Martinkus called the plea agreement a "crafted compromise" in which Kijanowski "acknowledges that maybe she overreacted to her perception of the imminent threat and danger posed to her by the victim. The state acknowledges that maybe the defendant would prevail at trial on her affirmative defense of self-defense," Martinkus said.

The plea to four years in prison, he said, "is a resolution that recognizes a human tragedy resulting from a toxic, out-of-control relationship between two young people."

"We are trying to hold Sarah responsible for taking Chase's life," Rietz said.

Responsible, yes. Punished, no, in the minds of Mr. Yets' family.

"It's going to haunt me for the rest of my life," said Melisa Yets, who was in Arizona with her husband at the time their son was killed.

"The day before she killed him, she attacked him, and she's basically getting away with it," Melisa Yets said, adding that her son sent her a cell phone photo of his injury. "My last phone conversation with my son, after he sent me the picture, was he couldn't wait for us to get home."

Rietz said her office was informed of that incident by the family but there were no other witnesses to it and neither Mr. Yets nor Kijanowski had reported the matter to police. Melisa Yets, who with her husband is now engaged in a separate court proceeding to adopt their 2-year-old granddaughter, is cautious about what she says.

"I don't agree with it. The evidence should have been heard," she said.

Kijanowski's parental rights to her three children have been terminated. The children are all currently living with her parents.

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