A Northwood woman has pleaded guilty to manslaughter in the January 2020 death of 15-year-old Jonah Borth.
In a plea hearing in a Grand Forks County courtroom Thursday afternoon, May 13, District Judge Jay Knudson agreed to accept Samantha Wilson's plea agreement with the state.
Wilson, 33, originally was charged with murder; she instead pleaded guilty to manslaughter, a Class B felony. The manslaughter charge carries up to 10 years in prison, but an enhancing factor of being in possession of a firearm while in commission of a felony can add an additional 10 years.
As a part of the plea agreement, Wilson is set to serve 20 years in prison, five of which were suspended, and five years of supervised probation. She will receive credit for time served since Jan. 27, 2020. Wilson will be required to serve at least 85% of her sentence before she can be eligible for parole. She also will be required to register as an offender against children and must pay more than $11,300 in restitution.
In addition to the manslaughter charge, Wilson pleaded guilty to a charge of contact by bodily fluids for spitting on a Grand Forks County correctional employee.
According to court documents, Wilson was in her Northwood home with her two young children as well as Borth and his father, both of Grand Forks, on Jan. 27, 2020.
Investigators say that when Borth attempted to hug Wilson, she fatally shot him in his upper chest. When his father rushed to give him lifesaving aid, Borth's final words reportedly were, "Sam shot me. I was trying to give her a hug. I love you."
When officers responded to the scene, investigators say they found Wilson outside, covered in blood and crying hysterically. Borth died at the scene.
A judge declared Wilson mentally fit to stand trial last August after a mental health evaluation found her to be competent.
Borth, a Red River High School Student, is remembered by loved ones for his big heart, his big voice and his love of music.
In several extensive victim-impact statements, Borth’s family expressed deep grief at the loss of their loved one.
“Our family will never be the same,” said Judy LeClerc, Borth’s grandmother. “I will miss the big bear hugs Jonah would give me. (There’s) no more school and youth concerts where he could use his beautiful singing voice; no more playing the piano for him while he sings a solo at church. We know that Jonah was famous for his puns (but) those are gone now. Jonah was a large man physically, but his heart surpassed anything one would call normal.”
Speaking to Wilson, LeClerc said Wilson’s actions were “massively careless” and in “total disregard for this wonderful child.”
“When I want to spend time with my grandchildren, I phone them or text them,” she said. “When I want to be with Jonah, I go to the cemetery.”
Laurie Blackberg, Borth's mother, also spoke to the court about her son.
“There are no words to describe the loss of my son and how it has affected my life,” Blackberg said. “Going to church is difficult for me (because) his absence is so painfully obvious. I dread Sunday evenings. At 10 o'clock on a Sunday evening is when my life was turned upside down, inside out and never to be the same.”
Checking the mail is difficult for Blackberg, she said, as there are college mailers addressed to her son that still sometimes arrive. She also no longer gets to hear him singing in the basement.
“If I want to hear him singing or hear his voice, I have to watch the few videos of him singing that I have or listen to a voicemail he had left me asking if I can bring him home a sub,” she said. “A text saying ‘I love you, Mom’ is the closest I will get to hearing him tell me he loves me ever again.”
Wilson also gave a prepared statement to the court, in which she said she is “sorry for being the cause of” the family’s “pain and heartache.”
“I do not ask for forgiveness because I know it is something you’re unable to give,” Wilson said. “Every day from Jan. 27, 2020, I know that my one selfish decision to end my own life ultimately led to the end of a life larger than any of us will be able to ever know. … (Jonah) was a positive role model for my kids. I live every day with the ache in my chest knowing that this tragic accident is my fault. If I could take his place, I would.”
Wilson said she feels the loss of Borth every day.
“Jonah may be gone, but I will never forget him,” she said.