Posted Aug. 16, 2005
Father faces 100 years in prison for infants deaths
Charges against Bagneski reduced as part of plea bargain
By Andy Nelesen
A 36-year-old Green Bay man pleaded no contest on Monday to charges he killed his 6-month-old son in November 1999 and his 9-month-old daughter in October 2001.
In a plea bargain that scuttled a five-day jury trial set to begin that day, prosecutors reduced the charges against William Bagneski from first-degree intentional homicide to first-degree reckless homicide, which took a potential life prison sentence off the table. The reckless homicide charges together carry a term of 100 years in prison.
Thats close enough to a life sentence for Brown County District Attorney John Zakowski.
I am pleased with the result, Zakowski said after Mondays plea hearing. This resolution prevents the family from having to go through a long, painful trial.
Bagneski was accused of shaking his daughter, Kelby, to death on Oct. 17, 2001. Kelbys death, which was deemed suspicious, prompted investigators to re-evaluate the death of Bagneskis son, Joel, two years earlier.
Joels death was originally deemed to be the result of sudden infant death syndrome, but further probing pointed to suffocation. In May 2004, Bagneski was charged with two counts of first-degree intentional homicide in connection to both deaths.
The agreement was finalized at a hearing Friday; however, an error in the states amended information prompted Brown County Circuit Court Judge Peter Naze to put off the plea hearing until Monday.
Bagneski made no statements Monday, other than to answer yes-or-no questions posed by Naze, most of which were to ensure that Bagneski understood what was going on.
As part of the plea deal, Zakowski agreed to make no specific recommendations at sentencing. While he is free to discuss the merits of the case, he is precluded from asking for specifics in sentencing, according to the agreement.
Bagneskis lawyer, David Christian, left court without comment, as did members of Bagneskis family.
Zakowski said there is a thin line between first-degree reckless homicide charge and the threshold for first-degree intentional homicide. Zakowski said the line is thin enough that the facts of Bagneskis case could fit either crime.
Zakowski said he believes that Bagneski never intended, with premeditation, to kill his kids, but that he had an anger problem.
He got angry with his kids for being kids, Zakowski said. They were crying and he snapped.
Zakowski yielded that his case against Bagneski was largely circumstantial, especially considering that Bagneski was alone with both children when they collapsed. Trial testimony was expected from doctors who examined the bodies of both children and police who investigated the deaths.
Zakowski said he also had members of an online SIDS support group who were willing to testify that Bagneski acted strangely when discussing the Joels death.
Many of them sensed something wasnt right, Zakowski said. They were willing to fly in to Green Bay from all over and tell us when they knew.
Naze found Bagneski guilty of two counts of reckless homicide and set a sentencing hearing for Oct. 19. Bagneski remains in the Brown County Jail in lieu of $300,000 bail.
William Bagneski is scheduled to be sentenced Oct. 19 on two counts of first-degree reckless homicide for the deaths of two of his infant children.
He faces a total of 100 years in prison.
He was originally charged with first-degree intentional homicide, but the charges were reduced as part of a plea bargain.
Timeline of William Bagneski case
Nov. 2, 1999: Rescue crews sent to William Bagneskis North Ashland Avenue home for a 6-month-old boy who stopped breathing.
Nov. 3, 1999: A forensic pathologist performs an autopsy on Joel Bagneski and rules the death a case of sudden infant death syndrome.
Oct. 17, 2001: Emergency dispatchers receive a call for an 8-month-old girl who is not breathing at Bagneskis North Ashland Avenue home. The 911 call-taker gives Bagneski instructions for cardiopulmonary resuscitation, but doesnt hear evidence that CPR is actually being performed. Rescue crews find bright red blood in the babys mouth when they arrive.
Oct. 22, 2001: The same pathologist who examined Joel performs an autopsy on Kelbys body and deems the death a result of non-accidental trauma.
Nov. 6, 2001: Bagneski is interviewed by Green Bay police for the second time. He claims the injuries found on Kelbys body were from the way the rescue crews handled her.
January and February 2003: Prosecutors get reports from pathologists who all agree that the childrens deaths were inconsistent with SIDS and consistent with shaken baby syndrome and child abuse.
May 2004: Prosecutors receive a statistical analysis which indicates that the odds of two children in one family dying of SIDS is one in 25.8 billion.
May 26, 2004: Bagneski is arrested and charged with two counts of first-degree intentional homicide. Prosecutors cite back-ups at federal crime labs caused by the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, for the delays in charges.
Jan. 26, 2005: Bagneski pleads not guilty to both charges.
Aug. 15, 2005: Pleads no contest to two reduced charges of first-degree reckless homicide.