STILLWATER, Minn. — Matthew Hoisser sat before a judge Friday, May 7, awaiting a sentence for intentionally dropping his crying infant son head-first on the ground, fatally injuring the 5-month-old.

In the days and weeks prior, family and friends submitted to the court 29 pages of support for the 37-year-old Woodbury man. In asking for leniency, Hoisser’s wife, Nicole, wrote that in the 13 years she has known him “he has proven to be a caring, gentle, patient, and law-abiding individual.”

But Washington County prosecutor Siv Yurichuk told the court the case is not about Hoisser, but his son, Gus, who was taken off life support and died April 30, 2019, five days after being admitted to the hospital for head injuries that included a skull fracture.

“Counsel talks about mercy and compassion for the defendant,” Yurichuk said of Hoisser’s attorney, “but the state’s question is, where’s the mercy and compassion for this child?”

Washington County District Judge Richard C. Ilkka denied a defense motion for a downward departure of state sentencing guidelines and gave Hoisser 74 months in prison, a little more than six years. The sentence followed his Aug. 28 guilty plea to a charge of first-degree manslaughter.

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“Ultimately, when I consider the facts of this case, my determination is that not following the guidelines would unduly depreciate the severity of this offense,” Ilkka said.

Hossier was arrested in August 2019, three months after his son’s death, and was originally charged with two counts of second-degree murder.

On Friday, Hoisser’s attorney, John Leunig, told the judge that Hoisser has accepted responsibility for his actions by pleading guilty to manslaughter, with the agreement being the state would cap its prison sentence request at 86 months and Hoisser would be allowed to argue for a departure.

Leunig said Hoisser is remorseful for what he did and “he knows he’s going to have to suffer with it for the rest of his life.”

Before handing down the sentence, Ilkka gave Hoisser an opportunity to address the court.

“I’d like to say that regardless of the decision that is rendered in the court today,” Hoisser said, “it won’t compare to the life sentence that I’ve given to myself and my family.”

The baby's death

Hoisser told authorities he was caring for his son on the evening of April 24, from about 7:30 p.m. to midnight, and had trouble getting him to sleep, according to a criminal complaint.

The boy “was crying and fussy and was being ‘difficult,’ ” the complaint states. “At one point, (Hoisser) was so frustrated he intentionally dropped the infant head first into the ground … intentionally causing him to fall to the ground and strike his head on the floor stunning (the baby) and causing him to continue to cry.”

At 6:30 a.m. the next morning, the boy’s mother said her son was “noticeably whining and whimpering” and would not take a bottle. She took the child to his home child care provider in Woodbury about 7 a.m., telling the provider that the baby had only taken 2.5 ounces of formula and was “fussier than usual,” the complaint states.

The child care provider put the baby down for a nap at 10 a.m. and when she went to check on him, he was “awake and fussy,” according to the complaint. When she went to change his diaper, she found him “limp and quiet.”

She called 911 and began administering rescue breaths.

The child was taken to Children’s Hospital in St. Paul and then transferred to Children’s Hospital in Minneapolis. He died five days later.

The cause of death was blunt-force trauma. Doctors said the head injury was so severe it would have left the infant permanently blind, deaf and unable to move, the complaint states. There also was evidence of hemorrhaging along his spinal cord.

Earlier head injury discovered

County prosecutor Yurichuk reminded the court Friday that it wasn’t until the baby’s autopsy, which took nearly four months to complete, that the medical examiner discovered two head injuries. One “occurred prior to the most recent injury … likely within a week or two of the infant’s hospitalization,” the complaint states.

“Then we had a skull fracture that coincides with the injury that led to his death,” Yurichuk said.

It was then, after Woodbury police had the autopsy report in hand, Yurichuk said, that Hoisser “ultimately admits that he’s responsible for both head injuries.”

Yurichuk argued against the defense attorney’s assertion that his client’s remorse and acceptance of responsibility are “substantial and compelling” reasons for a downward departure.

“Remorse isn’t, ‘I’m caught. I’m looking at prison, so I’m now going to say, ‘I’m sorry and I did it,’ ” Yurichuk said. “Remorse is when you do something wrong and you have the integrity to say to yourself, ‘Wow, I really screwed up. I’m sorry’ … without having to get caught first. That’s the type of remorse that is compelling and substantial.”