Northwestern Minnesota woman sentenced for murdering infant

Sarah Kortan

A Bagley, Minn., woman will spend 18 years in prison for murdering a 2-month-old girl last summer.

Sarah Leah Kortan, 31, was sentenced Monday, Sept. 23, for the death of her infant cousin. She was caring for Josephine Taylor Kortan while the baby’s mother was in prison.

On June 20, 2018, Kortan called 911 because the baby was not breathing and had turned purple while she was caring for her in her apartment at 200 Ninth St. S.W. in Red Lake Falls, according to a criminal complaint.

First responders said the baby didn’t have a pulse, wasn’t breathing and had white foam coming from her nose. A deputy began CPR on Josephine and she was transported to Sanford Medical Center in Thief River Falls. Kortan did not go with, court documents said.


Doctors were unable to resuscitate Josephine and told investigators she had little to no brain activity, which was possibly linked to shaken baby syndrome. She was flown to Sanford Medical Center in Fargo and placed on a ventilator to keep her alive, the criminal complaint said.

Josephine died June 22, shortly after she was removed from life support. Doctors said she was brain dead. Her autopsy determined the infant had multiple skull fractures, retinal hemorrhages and detachment in her eyes.

Kortan told investigators she dropped Josephine in the kitchen and the baby hit her head on the stove and floor, according to the complaint. She told a deputy “that she had killed her baby and it was all her fault,” the court document said.

According to the autopsy, Josephine’s injuries weren’t consistent with an accidental or short fall, but were more likely caused by “intentionally inflicted trauma.”

Josephine’s obituary said she “was a loving baby that was taken too soon and was a beautiful little girl.”

Kortan was caring for two other children, ages 8 and 12, when Josephine stopped breathing, the complaint said. She used Facebook to advertise child care services but is not a licensed provider.

Josephine’s mother, Chelsey Howell of Bagley, granted Kortan custody of the infant while she was incarcerated on drug-related charges. She and Kortan are first cousins.


An online petition sprang up in the wake of Josephine’s death that called for changes to Delegation of Parental Authority orders in Minnesota. Kortan utilized DOPA to gain temporary custody of Josephine. The order grants parental rights for up to a year but can be renewed. Petition organizers are pushing for stricter screening and background checks for caregivers using DOPA orders. Other children were previously removed from Kortan’s custody, the petition said.

Several months before Josephine’s death, Kortan started a GoFundMe page asking for financial help so she could adopt the baby because she was unable to have her own child. The page, which is no longer active, reportedly raised no money.

She pleaded guilty for unintentional second-degree murder in July. Kortan will serve her 18-year sentence at the Minnesota Correctional Facility in Shakopee.

Tess covers crime and courts for the Grand Forks Herald. She previously worked for the Associated Press, Lincoln Journal Star, Omaha World-Herald and The Voice News. Reach her at (701) 780-1267, or on Twitter @ByTessWilliams.
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