Mon. Jul 15th, 2024

As the attorneys and a district judge in Idaho discussed what sentence 20-year-old Dillon Butikofer should receive for killing his infant son in October, much was made of how his life would be affected.

Defense attorney Curtis Smith argued that Butikofer could do more good out of prison, and that prison would ruin his life and make him into a criminal. Both Smith and 7th District Judge Stevan Thompson noted Butikofer had strong support from his family and had shown remorse for his actions.

There was less discussion about the consequences the crime had for 3-month-old Ashtonn Butikofer. When doctors examined him, he had bleeding on his brain. He also had several older injuries that showed signs of healing, including a broken clavicle. Ashtonn later died of his injuries.

A doctor concluded Ashtonn’s injuries were unlikely to be caused by an accidental fall. When questioned by police, Butikofer originally claimed the infant had fallen, but that he later confessed to having squeezed and shaken Ashtonn while changing his diaper.

Thompson acknowledged the disparity between the support Butikofer was receiving compared to his son as he sentenced Butikofer Tuesday to just 90 days in jail and 10 years of probation for voluntary manslaughter.

“It is kind of one-sided here today,” Thompson said. “There’s nobody really speaking out on behalf of the child.”

The Jefferson County Prosecutor’s Office negotiated a plea agreement in the case that allowed its attorneys to argue for a sentence of three-to-15 years in prison.

When Jefferson County Chief Deputy Prosecutor Serhiy Stavysnkyy gave his argument, however, he only recommended that Thompson give Butikofer the maximum amount of probation. Stavynskyy kept his argument brief, citing Butikofer’s lack of a criminal history. He also said Butikofer had been working to take responsibility for his son’s death.

“This wasn’t an easy case for anyone involved,” Stavynskyy said.

Jefferson County Prosecutor Mark Taylor said in a statement that his office was “greatly surprised” that the Idaho Department of Correction recommended Butikofer receive probation in the case. That recommendation was then followed by the judge, Taylor stated.

“Our office is responsible for charging cases and getting them to the sentencing phase; however, what sentence the defendants receive is entirely in the discretion of the judge,” Taylor said in his written statement.

He added, “Increasingly, because of the legislature’s decision not to build more prisons, we are seeing more and more cases that used to get prison time placing people instead on probation.”

Smith asked the judge to consider how a prison sentence could affect Butikofer’s life. He discussed another case in which a prosecutor chose not to pursue charges against a man who also shook a baby to death. Smith noted that in that case, the father later became a banker.

According to Smith, his client expressed remorse during their conversations, saying the whole family had exhibited “raw pain” throughout the case.

Smith said sending Butikofer to prison would reduce his ability to “have a positive impact” on the community. He recommended that Butikofer could speak publicly about his experience and educate other would-be parents of the risks of Shaken Baby Syndrome.

Smith also cited his client’s youth, suggesting Butikofer was too young to be a parent.

“I don’t mean to suggest Dillon couldn’t have or shouldn’t have done something different, in fact not at all, but I recognize, in spending so much time with him and his family that he didn’t have the tools and he wasn’t ready for that experience,” Smith said.

Butikofer gave a statement acknowledging his actions to Thompson.

“Your Honor, I feel terrible about what happened and I wish I could change it every day,” Butikofer said. “I miss my son every single day.”

Thompson said he shared Smith’s concerns that sending Butikofer to prison would negatively affect Butikofer, citing statistics that showed recidivism rates are higher for defendants placed on rider programs than those on probation.

“Sometimes you can make criminals out of people by sending them to prison,” Thompson said.

Thompson also said he was worried about how Butikofer would be treated in jail and prison, telling him, “the nature of your crime is one that’s not well received by other inmates.”

The judge told Butikofer he had been balancing feelings of sympathy and anger over Ashtonn’s death. Even as he handed down his sentence, Thompson said the relatively short jail period would be seen as too short for a man who killed an infant.

“It’s had to argue that it does not depreciate the seriousness of what happened,” Thompson said.

Thompson said, however, that he felt the jail and probation sentence was appropriate, saying the support his family had shown would reduce the likelihood that he would repeat his offense.

The sentencing is far shorter than those given to previous defendants in eastern Idaho accused of shaking or abusing children.

In February 2021 James and Amanda Berry of Idaho Falls were sentenced to prison after their daughter was hospitalized. The victim suffered permanent brain injuries, but did not die from the abuse.

Stanley Scruggs of Idaho Falls was sentenced in May 2020 to a minimum of two years in prison after he reportedly threw his infant son against a wall, breaking several of the victim’s bones and causing bleeding on his brain. The victim survived, but later showed signs of developmental delay.

In 2018, Jesus Castillo of Blackfoot was sentenced to a minimum of 15 years in prison after he “donkey kicked” his son into a wall, killing him.

Thompson gave Butikofer an underlying sentence of two-to-10 years in prison, time he will not have to serve unless he violates the terms of his probation.

In addition to 90 days in jail, Thompson said he would require Butikofer to speak publicly about killing his son. He will also not be allowed to be alone with a child under the age of 6, and if he has another child he will be required to report to Child Protective Services.

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By Buffy Gunner

Independent Journalist + Business Owner | Lover of all things true crime. Mantra: Only YOU can be YOU. | Los Angeles Born |