There were gasps, loud sobs and lastly hugs from the family of Ryder Morrison as the word they have waited years to hear was finally read aloud in court Wednesday.
It took a jury a day and a half of deliberations to convict Kelli Jacobsen of second-degree manslaughter for negligently causing the 2011 death of the 1-year-old she once cared for.
Jurors acquitted the former Richland live-in nanny of first-degree manslaughter, instead choosing the lesser charge.
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However, Jacobsen, 31, also was convicted of two aggravating circumstances, which will allow prosecutors to ask for a prison sentence above the standard range of 15 to 20 months.
Sentencing is scheduled for Sept. 3, and Jacobsen will remain out of jail until then. She has one previous conviction for third-degree theft.
Defense attorney Shane Silverthorn plans to file a notice of appeal and request that Jacobsen be released on a bond until a higher court reviews the case.
The manslaughter conviction comes more than four years after the toddler died from abusive head trauma and two years after a jury failed to reach a verdict in the first trial.
For Andy Miller, who has been prosecutor in Benton County for more than 25 years, there hasn’t been a more rewarding conviction.
“In all my years as prosecutor, I don’t think I’m more pleased with a verdict than I am today,” he said.
The most recent trial lasted more than a week as prosecutors called several medical experts who testified the serious injuries Ryder suffered could not have been caused by a short fall from a toy as Jacobsen described.
Doctors discovered Ryder had a traumatic brain injury, a spine injury and at least 22 bruises, according to trial testimony.
Tawney Johnson, Ryder’s mother, stopped by home on a break from work for a short while before her son became unresponsive. She was back at work when she got the call Ryder was being rushed to the hospital. He died more than a hour later.
Silverthorn suggested during the trial that Ryder was abused by someone else who had access to the boy in the hours leading up to his death. Doctors have said Ryder’s injuries happened minutes or possibly up to 24 hours earlier.
Jacobsen cried after the verdict and quickly left the Benton County Justice Center.
Silverthorn said Jacobsen was shocked to be convicted and still denies causing the injury that killed the boy.
“We expected for her not be convicted of first-degree manslaughter, which is what occurred,” Silverthorn said. “We expected the next most likely scenario was a hung jury again. I think we were all disappointed it came back second-degree manslaughter. It looked like it was a pretty close call for the jurors.”
Miller spoke with the jury shortly after the verdict was announced. They told him they were initially split 9-3 on the second-degree manslaughter charge, but eventually agreed to convict after reviewing evidence Miller focused on in his closing argument.
“They focused on the timeline. They focused on the three main doctors,” Miller said. “They found a lot of other things somewhat extraneous.”
The courtroom Wednesday was filled with supporters for Ryder and Jacobsen, all of whom regularly attended both trials.
Prosecutors guided members of both sides of Ryder’s family to another part of the justice center for privacy.
Miller told the Herald that he’s never seen an outpouring of emotion from family members like he did Wednesday.
“The trial doesn’t change the fact that Ryder Morrison died one day after his first birthday,” he said.
“They just couldn’t stop crying,” Miller added. “There has been a cloud over both (sides of the family) for the last four years.”