A woman convicted of killing her 18-month-old foster child has been sentenced to 50 years in prison for the crime.
Except to answer “Yes” or “No” when Superior Court Judge Salvador Vasquez asked a question, Jamilia Shenese Hodge, 37, remained silent during her sentencing Wednesday. Her attorney, Scott King, told the court he advised her not to give a statement since she plans to appeal the sentence.
King, who asked that Vasquez sentence Hodge to the minimum of 45 years, said in his remarks that the entirety of the evidence against Hodge hinged only upon the 6.5 hours Hodge was interrogated over two days, not on any injuries Hodges allegedly inflicted. While he respected the jury’s decision, he said he didn’t agree with the verdict.
“We have a defendant in this case where this was the first contact with police she’d ever had in any category,” King said. “A huge mitigating factor is a complete lack of interaction with the court.
“ (Hodge is) 37 years old and a mom of a 6-year-old, a young woman who didn’t just get barely through but who took classes in business and psychology. She worked and was the sole supporter of her household: her kid, foster kids and two grown men.”
King also said the big part of Hodge’s appeal will be methods in which police interrogated her.
Prosecuting Attorney Michelle Jatkiewicz asked if the court was really going to let Hodge decline to make a statement, then said that the victim, Emma Salinas, deserved better.
“What the court is left with is two aggravating factors: Emma’s age because she was defenseless, and the position of trust. Miss Hodge chose to take the kids on when they were removed from their mother’s care. She not only violated their mother’s trust, but she violated the trust of the state.”
Jatkiewicz, who asked that Hodge be sentenced to 60 years, said Hodge admitted to heavy marijuana use since she was 15 and reminded the court that Hodge spent more time casting herself as the victim than showing remorse for the victim.
Vasquez said he doesn’t understand how Hodge, who had no previous contact with the law, could’ve killed Emma since nothing ever indicated she would be capable. But he did agree that Hodge violated a lot of trust.
“You failed, and you failed horribly,” Vasquez said. “Your obligation was to bring her home, and it didn’t occur.”
Vasquez agreed that the state’s argument for the maximum sentence was valid but ultimately decided it wasn’t appropriate. He sentenced her to 50 years with five years of probation and then lifetime parole.
Gary Detective Sgt. Ed Gonzalez and Ogden Dunes Police Chief Jeremy Ogden, who were among the officers who responded to the call in 2017, attended the sentencing. Both said they “had no words.”
“Thinking that Emma’s siblings walked past her in the morning and saw her lying there, not knowing anything was wrong, then being taken away by CPS after school, I’m at a loss for words,” Gonzalez said. “It was tragic for someone this young to have lost her life.”
“We’ll always see her lying there in her crib,” Ogden added.
Hodge told police that Emma was one of four foster children in her care. She called 911 around 11:42 a.m. May 4 to report that the child had died, according to court records.
Autopsy findings showed the girl suffered a possible dislocation of vertebrae in her neck and died of asphyxia due to suffocation, which was complicated by blunt force trauma to the head. The child also had bleeding on the brain, the probable cause affidavit states.
The forensic pathologist who conducted the autopsy estimated the child had been dead at least 12 hours before the 911 call, according to court records.
In an interview with police, Hodge said she took two of her foster children to school that morning, returned home to take a third child to school and came back home around 8 a.m., when she noticed Emma’s face was facing the wall in the same position as when Hodge left, according to the probable cause affidavit.
Emma had arrived home around 7:30 p.m. May 2 from visiting her biological mother, who complained the child was sick with a fever and diarrhea, records state.
Hodge’s boyfriend returned to the Miller home around midnight May 3 and heard Emma yelling or crying in the crib while the other children in the bedroom were trying to sleep, records state. The boyfriend told police he opened the bedroom door and told Emma to quiet down, and she did, records state.
Hodge said she did not get out of bed when her boyfriend and his brother came home from working out, but both said Hodge was awake and in the kitchen when they came home, records state.
In a follow-up interview, Hodge said she put a hand over the toddler’s face to stop her from crying and put her left hand on the child’s chest as she lay on her back, records state. As she spoke with investigators, Hodge started crying and said she was sorry for what happened and that it was an accident, records state.
Meredith Colias-Pete contributed.
Michelle L. Quinn is a freelance reporter for the Post-Tribune.
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