Baby Karma case: Judge to wait before making decision

Baby Karma case: Judge to wait before making decision

URBANA — A Champaign County judge said he'll rule later on the guilt or innocence of a St. Joseph man accused of attempted murder and child abduction after leaving his baby daughter in a muddy soybean field to die more than three years ago.

Judge Jason Bohm said he wanted time to consider the argument of the attorney for Thomas Boitnott, 27, who had earlier been found guilty but mentally ill of those offenses and subsequently sentenced to 20 years in prison.

In August, the Fourth District Appellate Court ordered that Boitnott be retried before a judge other than Champaign County Presiding Judge Tom Difanis, who the appeals court said erred by not allowing Boitnott's attorney to make a closing argument during his stipulated bench trial in January 2016.

The case was reassigned to Bohm, and Boitnott's lawyer, Assistant Public Defender Matt Ham, asked that Bohm review the police reports about the 15-hour ordeal for Boitnott's child and mental-health reports about him before issuing a finding.

"I will issue a written ruling as quickly as I can," Bohm said following a 25-minute hearing Friday during which State's Attorney Julia Rietz took no position on Boitnott's guilt or innocence and Ham argued for about 15 minutes that his client should be acquitted by reason of insanity.

Rietz and Ham had given Bohm 68 pages of reports Thursday to review to decide if Boitnott is guilty, not guilty, guilty but mentally ill or not guilty by reason of insanity.

Karma Boitnott was 6 months old on June 11, 2015, when she disappeared from her mother's St. Joseph apartment. Her father was believed to have taken her after an argument with the child's mother.

Champaign County sheriff's deputies launched an exhaustive search and found Boitnott about 8:15 p.m. that day wandering on a county road near St. Joseph, but he would not tell them where the baby was.

He asked for an attorney and then-Public Defender Randy Rosenbaum talked with Boitnott, learning information that led to the discovery of the baby about 1:45 a.m. June 12 in a soybean field near St. Joseph.

Dehydrated, sunburned and covered in mud, Karma was otherwise all right as she was scooped up by Deputy Chad Beasley. She is now 4 years old.

Boitnott was criminally charged hours later, and within a month, Champaign psychiatrist Larry Jeckel concluded that he suffered from a "psychotic disorder" that rendered him unfit to stand trial.

After three months of treatment, he was found fit to stand trial and re-examined by Jeckel, who again concluded that Boitnott suffered from a "severe mental illness, a psychotic disorder" at the time of the offense.

Jeckel said in June 2015, Boitnott was in an "altered, psychotic state of mind" and "unable to weigh and consider the meaning and consequences of his conduct."

That psychiatric finding prompted Boitnott's former attorney, Tom Bruno, to ask for a bench trial for his client.

Rietz agreed with Bruno that Difanis should read the police reports, the psychiatric evaluations and the treatment reports then decide Boitnott's guilt or innocence.

Based on what they had read, both attorneys had anticipated a ruling of not guilty by reason of insanity, and Rietz had even prepared an order saying so for the judge to sign.

But on the day of the bench trial, Difanis made it clear that the decision was his and not the result of some negotiation that the attorneys had engaged in.

Difanis' reaction to the prepared order of not guilty by reason of insanity threw a curve into the proceedings, which normally unfold in a fairly predictable fashion.

The judge then asked Bruno if he still wanted to forge ahead with the stipulated bench trial. Bruno said he did and the hearing continued, but Difanis found Boitnott guilty but mentally ill without allowing Bruno to make a closing argument — the action that sent the case back to Champaign County for retrial.

On Friday, Ham's argument centered on Jeckel's diagnoses of Boitnott, both shortly after his arrest and months later, after he had received inpatient mental-health treatment.

Ham argued that Boitnott's actions were "spur-of-the moment" and that Jeckel had found that he lacked "substantial capacity to appreciate the criminality of his conduct."

He said there was "clear and convincing evidence" that Boitnott was insane.

Boitnott was returned to the Champaign County Jail from a state prison in October, where he's been waiting for his retrial.

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