BELFAST — Miranda Hopkins was sentenced Wednesday to 13 years in prison in connection with the death of her 7-week-old son, Jaxson, in January.

The sentence — 18 years in prison with all but 13 years suspended — was handed down just before 11 a.m. in Waldo County Superior Court in Belfast. Hopkins will also be placed on probation for four years after her release from prison.

Hopkins was found guilty by a jury last month of manslaughter in the death of her son.

Justice Robert Murray granted Hopkins a stay from her sentence until Dec. 26 at 9 a.m., when she is to report to prison. Hopkins’ attorney, Christopher MacLean, asked that Hopkins be given the stay to spend Christmas with her family. Her father is in poor health and may not live until she is released from prison.

Assistant District Attorney Leane Zainea argued Hopkins should not be granted the stay, as the conviction had already been rendered. She indicated that Hopkins could be a flight risk if allowed to be outside prison after being sentenced.

Speaking to Murray after the sentence was read, Hopkins gave a brief statement after friends and family spoke on her behalf.

“I just want to say that I’m sorry,” she said. “(I want to) thank all my family and friends for standing behind me. I don’t know what else to say.”

In arriving at the sentence, Murray stated he weighed mitigating and aggravating factors after examining the crime. Hopkins’ lack of criminal history and her advocacy for children with autism were mitigating factors. However, in pointing out aggravating factors, Murray said, “The court does find that defendant has demonstrated a refusal to take responsibility. This has most significantly manifested itself in the blaming of her other children. That is a position taken by defendant from the outset and continued throughout trial.”

Zainea had been asking for a harsher sentence for Hopkins, citing a number of other manslaughter cases involving children throughout the state. While Hopkins was comforted by her attorneys, Zainea said the death of Jaxson was a direct result of Hopkins’ actions — namely squeezing, shaking and causing blunt force trauma to Jaxson.

“He didn’t die as a result of natural causes or a tragic accident, but as a result of reckless or criminally negligent conduct,” Zainea said.

In a court affidavit, the baby’s cause of death was listed as blunt force head injuries that included cuts and bruises on the head and skull, rib fractures, and bleeding on the surface of the brain.

Hopkins told authorities she had awakened to find her baby cold, white and “beat to hell.” The infant, who was born Nov. 21, 2016, was pronounced dead at the scene. Hopkins lived with Jaxson and two other sons, ages 6 and 8, who are both autistic, she told police.

Hopkins also told police she must have “blacked out” and was “so drunk that she did not remember,” saying she had drunk whiskey and ingested the antihistamine drug Benadryl, according to a police affidavit filed with the court.

The defense argued for a shorter sentence, pointing out Hopkins has no history of criminal behavior, that she is a loving mother who had too much on her plate, that she was a vital member of the community and that having lost Jaxson and her other two sons and having been in jail already, she had already been punished.

“We have a very serious crime today,” MacLean said. “Jury listened to evidence and rendered this verdict that we all accept here today. Miranda feels she had a fair trial, and we stand here today to be sentenced.”

Zainea, however, argued that Hopkins did have a history of criminal behavior. She cited Facebook posts from Hopkins earlier this year that indicated she was selling marijuana. MacLean countered that Hopkins was allowed to have a medical marijuana plant, and while she had sold some to close friends, the amounts were small.

MacLean brought five friends and family members to speak on behalf of Hopkins.

Katherine Courchene, a close friend, tearfully spoke about having known Hopkins for 15 years and how they “instantly clicked.” Courchene had two young children when she first met Hopkins and said Hopkins came to her aid whenever she needed her. Even in dire financial times, Hopkins was able to put some money together or make gifts for people in her life.

“When I had a rough day, she was there,” Courchene said.

Dylan Hopkins, Miranda Hopkins’ brother, said she had always been a caring and loving mother who did the best she could for her children. She is a good person, he said, who has constantly helped her family.

“Our life won’t be complete until we get her back in our arms,” he said.

Zainea painted a different picture of Hopkins, referencing an audio recording introduced as evidence in the trial. In the recording, a frustrated Hopkins yells at her two autistic sons, cursing at them and threatening to throw them in a snowbank if they didn’t listen and put their coats on.

MacLean said it was not fair to put much weight on a single audio recording of a frustrated Hopkins, and that it was easy to understand that someone caring for two severely autistic young boys could become occasionally frustrated.

“Everyone gets frustrated with their kids,” he said.

Zainea read a letter from the two boys’ father, who was at the trial but declined to speak with the Morning Sentinel. In the letter, he states he has had the two boys in his custody ever since Hopkins was arrested, and said they are in good health and progressing in their education.

“The boys are kind, affectionate, and loving, and should be exonerated of all further accusations,” Zainea read.

Hopkins had consistently stated one or both of the boys must have killed Jaxson. However, during the sentencing, MacLean said it was important to remember that Hopkins had told police that she had no conscious memory of killing Jaxson, having passed out from alcohol, marijuana and Benadryl. He said while it is important to punish wrongful behavior, it was also hard to justify a severe punishment for someone without conscious memory of what she was being punished for.

Hopkins’ attorneys did try to have the results of a polygraph test admitted as evidence, arguing that the results indicated there was more than a 99 percent certainty that Hopkins was telling the truth.

Following the trial, MacLean said they may look into an appeal. During the sentencing, Murray said Hopkins does have the right to appeal both the verdict and sentence to the Maine Supreme Court.

Colin Ellis — 861-9253

[email protected]

Twitter: @colinoellis

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