ALAMOSA — For every year of the childhood she will never have, District Judge Michael Gonzales on Thursday sentenced Perry Hotz, 21, to 18 years in prison for the death of his daughter Alexis, 5 1/2 months old.
In January Hotz pleaded guilty to felony child abuse resulting in death in connection with his daughter’s October 11, 2016 death.
“The people in this case stipulated to 18 years as an appropriate sentence,” Assistant District Attorney Ashley McCuaig told the judge. “Eighteen years is a childhood.”
He said Hotz should serve the 18 years to which both sides stipulated because it was symbolic of what should have been his daughter’s childhood.
McCuaig added, however that Hotz took much more away than his daughter’s childhood, and there could be no punishment that could bring her back or make her family whole again.
Judge Gonzales agreed. He said there was nothing he could do or say that would remedy the harm Hotz had caused and whether her death was accidental or otherwise, Hotz would have to live with the thought he was responsible for the rest of his life.
“I hope every morning when you wake up the first thing you think about is her laughter, her giggle, the smile twinkling in her eyes she had for you. You took that away.”
With a friend reading it, Alexis’ mother shared a statement with the court during the Thursday sentencing. She talked about the impact Alexis’ death had had on her and her family and how Alexis had been the light of her life and her reason for living. She talked about how her death had left a hole in her heart. She said she believed her father, who passed away three days after what would have been Alexis’ first birthday, had died of a broken heart.
“She’s still my amazing and beautiful baby girl I will never be able to see again,” she wrote.
She added that she believed 18 years was not enough time for the life of her daughter and would just be the time she would be entering college if she had lived. She did not ask for restitution, “because no amount of money could give my family and I back the sweet baby girl we lost.”
She also asked that Hotz not have any contact with her or her family now or when he gets out of prison.
McCuaig shared some of the testimony from Hotz’s preliminary hearing when Dr. Desmond Runyan, who runs the Kempe Center at Children’s Hospital, talked about the extent of Alexis’ injuries and how he did not believe they could have resulted from a short fall from a chair, as Hotz had related. Hotz told authorities that his daughter was injured in an accident. He had said she was fussy the morning he was caring for her, and when he pulled her out of her chair, her foot caught and she fell and landed on her head.
McCuaig showed the judge pictures of the chair and how high it was as well as X-rays of Alexis’ injuries. He referred to Dr. Runyan’s testimony about the type of complex fractures Alexis had sustained and how her brain had swollen afterwards. McCuaig shared Dr. Runyan’s statement from the preliminary hearing that in his 35 years in pediatrics the images of Alexis’ skull were the most disturbing. The doctor had testified that he did not find the child’s injuries compatible with the father’s account of what had happened but believed more likely the injury was caused by a blow to the head.
Hotz’s attorney Amiel Markenson referred to Dr. Robert Bux, Colorado Springs, who listed the manner of death as undetermined, and another physician researcher who maintained this could have been the result of an accident.
Markenson said regardless of whether Hotz was reckless or this was an accident, he will feel responsible for his daughter’s death forever. He asked that the judge honor the stipulated 18-year sentence and give Hotz credit for 540 days he has already been in custody, which the judge did. The judge said the sentence was similar to other cases of this type, and Hotz has accepted responsibility for his actions.
Hotz also spoke briefly to the court. He said he knew this had affected many people and there was nothing that could be done to change what had happened “and from here on out all I can do is try to better myself for myself, my family and the community.”
In speaking to Hotz, Judge Gonzales talked about his own children, now 17 and 13, and how he understood how hard it was to be a new parent with crying babies and that sometimes accidents do happen.
He said he did not know what really happened on the day Alexis was injured, but he encouraged Hotz to be honest about it, if he had not been already. He said he did not think Hotz woke up that morning intending to harm his daughter. However, Hotz’s daughter depended on him for protection and security, and that morning she did not get it.
Whether it was an accident or something else, “no one but you knows,” the judge told Hotz. The judge said it did not make sense to him that the injuries he saw in the evidence were from a simple fall, but regardless of whether that is what happened or Hotz became stressed and upset and did something, in the end he was responsible.
“I wasn’t there. You were there, and you were the only one there, and you, Mr. Hotz, will have to live with what happened for the rest of your life.”