UTICA – The Utica man accused of killing his girlfriend’s baby earlier this year accepted a plea deal in Oneida County Court on Monday.
Twenty-year-old Jason Nieves was initially charged with second-degree murder, and he pleaded guilty to a charge of first-degree manslaughter in exchange for 20 years in prison and five years of post-release supervision.
Photo of Emelina Sanchez courtesy of her obituary from Eannace Funeral Home
Oneida County District Attorney Scott McNamara said they could prove Nieves intended to cause harm, but not that he necessarily intended a murder. However, even if Nieves rejected the plea deal, prosecutors could still try him for manslaughter in the first degree.
"Our theory was, from the beginning, that when he was smashing the baby's head up against the door, that he was trying to kill the baby," McNamara said. "Now whether a jury would see it the same way as we saw that, and the police saw it, that's a whole different ballgame, and that's why you end up with us offering man first. The names of the crime aren't as significant as the amount of time we can get."
Manslaughter is a lesser-included charge of murder, meaning a jury could still find him guilty of manslaughter even if they couldn't prove an intent to kill.
On Jan. 20, Utica police and fire departments responded to a home on Walker Street for a report of an unresponsive child, and seven-month-old Emelina Sanchez was found with faint vital signs and head injuries. She died of her injuries just after midnight Jan. 21 at Upstate Golisano Children’s Hospital in Syracuse.
Police say Nieves caused the baby’s head injuries in response to her crying uncontrollably.
Nieves and his defense attorney previously claimed they couldn’t consider the Oneida County District Attorney’s Office’s plea deal because they were waiting on the autopsy report. According to the Onondaga County Medical Examiner’s Office, an autopsy determined that the baby died of blunt force trauma to the head from multiple blows.
Nieves in court, expressed that he loved Sanchez.
"I stand before you to tell you I did love that child," Nieves said. "I was trying my best to calm her down."
Nieves is scheduled to be sentenced on June 26th.