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‘This Wasn’t a Mistake’ Minnesota Judge Has Harsh Words at Sentencing of Man Who Killed 18-Month-Old Black Foster Child

A Minneapolis man has been sentenced for the slaying of his 18-month-old foster child on Aug. 26, 2018.

Jason Robert Betlach, 32, of Jordan, was sentenced in Scott County District Court Tuesday after pleading guilty to the death of his 18-month-old daughter, Layla Mary Ann Jackson, in February.

Betlach and Jackson
Suburban Minneapolis man Jason Robert Betlach, 32, was sentenced in Scott County District Court Tuesday after pleading guilty to murdering his 18-month-old foster daughter, Layla Mary Ann Jackson, in 2018. (Photos: Scott County Sheriff’s Office, Minnesota Star Tribune)

An emergency call to the Scott County Sheriff’s Office reported that the girl was not breathing on Aug. 26, 2018, at a home in Sand Creek Township, Minnesota. Layla died two days later while hospitalized at Children’s Minneapolis.

Betlach was sentenced to 20 years in prison for the second-degree murder without intent while committing a felony charge after the court found two aggravating factors: the victim was particularly vulnerable due to her age, and Betlach’s conduct was a breach of trust and authority.

“You’re barely human, sir,” Judge Rex Stacey said after telling Betlach he’d intended to sentence him to life imprisonment had he withdrawn his guilty plea.

Betlach was arrested in November 2018 after autopsy results from the Hennepin County Medical Examiner’s Office showed she died from extensive brain damage due to “blunt force head and neck injury.” Betlach admitted to the court during his Feb. 7 allocution that he shook the crying little girl until she was unresponsive.

Before delivering the sentence Tuesday, Stacey cited incidents of child abuse and racism which were presented as evidence against Betlach during pretrial hearings. They included instances of Betlach writing “loser” on the child with a marker and a video of Beltach yelling “white power” at the child, who was black and Native American.

Betlach’s attorney, Eric Hawkins, pleaded with the court at Tuesday’s sentencing that Betlach was “a good person who did a very bad act.” Judge Stacey would rebut those remarks, saying, “This wasn’t a mistake, Mr. Betlach. This was murder of a baby.”

The girl’s family was also present via telephone during the sentencing hearing. They made an emotional claim addressing the court regarding the 2018 incident. Betlach was also allowed to speak via the gallery’s PA system at the sentencing, held at the Scott County Enforcement Center where he has been incarcerated, but he could hardly be heard on the PA system.

The 519 days Betlach has served in jail will count toward his 20-year sentence.

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