A Bagley, Minn., woman pleaded guilty to the murder of her 2-month-old cousin Tuesday. When the baby died last June, 31-year-old Sarah Leah Kortan was advertising child care services in her home via Facebook.
She pleaded guilty to one count of second-degree murder in Beltrami County District Court. The case was relocated to Beltrami County from Red Lake County.
Kortan was arrested over a year ago after she called 911 on June 20 to report that baby Josephine Taylor Kortan was not breathing and turning purple inside her apartment at 200 Ninth St. SW. in Red Lake Falls, a criminal complaint said.
When a deputy arrived, he said the infant didn’t appear to have a pulse, wasn’t breathing and had white foam coming from her nose. The deputy began CPR and Josephine was brought by ambulance to the Sanford Medical Center in Thief River Falls. According to the deputy, the 2-month-old girl had bruises on her face.
Kortan was reportedly watching two other children, ages 8 and 12, when Josephine stopped breathing. Investigators said she used Facebook to advertise child care services, but is not a licensed provider.
Kortan did not go to the hospital, court documents said.
Doctors were unable to resuscitate Josephine and told investigators she had little to no brain activity, possibly due to shaken baby syndrome. The infant was flown to Sanford Medical Center in Fargo, where a court document said she was placed on a ventilator to keep her alive.
Doctors determined Josephine was brain dead and she died June 22, 2018 shortly after being removed from life support.
Josephine had multiple skull fractures, retinal hemorrhages and detachment in her eyes, according to the autopsy.
Her mother, Chelsey Howell of Bagley, Minn., was in prison and gave Kortan custody of Josephine while she was incarcerated. Howell was in the Shakopee correctional facility on drug-related charges. She and Kortan are first cousins.
Kortan told investigators she dropped Josephine in the kitchen and the baby hit her head on the stove and floor several days before her death, according to the complaint. Kortan said Josephine was purple when she woke up from a nap on June 20, 2018, the complaint said. She told a deputy “that she had killed her baby and it was all her fault,” according to the court document.
The autopsy said Josephine’s injuries were not consistent with an accidental or short fall, but instead more consistent with intentionally inflicted trauma.
Josephine’s obituary said she “was a loving baby that was taken too soon and was a beautiful little girl.”
Kortan posted a GoFundMe page several months prior to Josephine’s death asking for financial help so she could adopt the baby because she was unable to have her own children. The page, which is no longer active, reportedly raised no money.
Former friends of Kortan started an online petition in the wake of Josephine’s death aiming to make changes to Delegation of Parental Authority in Minnesota. Kortan utilized a DOPA to retain custody of Josephine during Howell’s incarceration. The order grants parental rights for up to a year, but can be renewed.
Other children were removed from Kortan’s custody through Child in Need of Protection orders, according to the petition, which has been signed by 2,297 people. The organizers are pushing for stricter screening and background assessments for caregivers granted custody under DOPA orders.
Kortan is scheduled for sentencing Sept. 23. She faces up to 40 years in prison.