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Sitter faces manslaughter charge

by David Cole
| December 2, 2010 8:00 PM

COEUR d'ALENE - A Post Falls baby sitter will face involuntary manslaughter charges in 1st District Court - not first-degree murder - for the death of a 3-year-old boy in her care in October.

Magistrate Judge Clark A. Peterson decided on the lesser charge on Wednesday for 26-year-old Amanda L. Skogen following a preliminary hearing in the case.

Skogen is accused of killing Cohen Johnson.

Kootenai County Prosecutor Barry McHugh said Skogen got angry and pushed Cohen after he wet himself and it got on her while the two were on a couch at her house, in the 500 block of North Elm Road. The boy fell backward and hit his head, the prosecutor said.

That incident occurred on Oct. 4 and Cohen died days later at Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center in Spokane after being taken off life support once his parents were told by doctors that the boy was brain dead.

A Spokane County medical examiner who performed the boy's autopsy testified that he sustained a fractured skull that

branched out in three directions on the back of his skull. He also suffered brain hemorrhaging and massive brain swelling, which killed the brain tissue.

Peterson said prosecutors and the defense team don't really differ on the primary facts in the case.

He repeated a widely reported comment Skogen made to Post Falls police, saying, "'I hurt a poor little defenseless boy ... And it was all my fault.'"

Peterson said he believes she was responsible for the death, but didn't believe the charge prosecutors were seeking to have bound over to District Court fit the crime.

Based on the evidence presented at the hearing, Peterson found that one push of the boy out of anger or frustration didn't add up to murder, particularly since he didn't believe Skogen would have anticipated the boy's death to be the end result of her action.

Still, he said, "There's a 3-year-old boy who should not be dead."

The judge said Skogen likely would do anything for "a do-over on Oct. 4."

Speaking directly to Cohen's mother, Jennifer A. Gamble, Peterson said, "Mom, I know this has been an incredibly long and difficult day for you. I'm sorry for your loss."

The boy's father, Jeremy Johnson, knows Skogen's husband, Matt, from high school, which led to the baby sitting job for Amanda Skogen.

The courtroom at the Kootenai County jail was packed with friends and family members for both sides. Gamble gave emotional testimony to start the hearing, and Skogen cried during breaks in testimony while she talked with those who attended to support her, including Matt Skogen, who testified.

McHugh needed to prove that there was an aggravated battery that led to the death for the first-degree murder charge to continue on at the next level.

"How much passion can (the boy wetting himself) really arouse," McHugh told the court. "We would argue there was more than just passion - there was a decision."

Defense attorneys John Adams and Anne Taylor said Skogen's action was more in line with a less serious misdemeanor battery.

They argued that the expected natural consequence of a single push wouldn't be death.

The judge found the argument persuasive, saying it was a misdemeanor battery with "an incredibly grievous result," but not enough to add up to murder.

Idaho statutes say punishment for individuals convicted of involuntary manslaughter can't exceed 10 years in custody.

The case will now be before 1st District Judge Fred Gibler.

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