KINGMAN - Rene Cuadra, 27, of Kingman got life in prison with 35 years guaranteed jail time on Tuesday for the first-degree murder of his former girlfriend's 21-month-old daughter, Michelle Dunshie.
Mohave County Superior Court Judge Richard Weiss also sentenced him to 20 years in the state corrections department for a second count of child abuse. The jail time will run concurrently with the first sentencing.
According to County Attorney Matt Smith, who prosecuted the case, the first-degree murder of children under the age of 15 requires a sentence of at least 35 years in prison rather than 25 years in adult-related crimes.
"It's a very horrendous crime. If someone lost his temper and hurt a child like this, he has got to pay for what he did," Smith said.
Deputy Public Defender Carlene Lacy considered the sentence an acceptable one considering the charges her client had been convicted of, she said. Thirty-five years guaranteed prison time is the minimum punishment Cuadra could possibly get from the court, Lacy said.
At the same time, Lacy still believes her client was not the one who killed Dunshie, though all the court evidence pointed directly at him.
"We will never know whether he is guilty or innocent. All the indicators pointed to his lover as being the guilty party but our evidence was kept out of the trial," said Lacy, referring the argument that the victim's mother might be responsible for her death.
The evidence presented by defense suggested that Cuadra had no prior criminal history, while his girlfriend, the victim's mother, has a documented history of domestic violence.
During the jury trial, Judge Weiss considered the evidence irrelevant to the case and refused to accept it.
Lacy said she would appeal the sentence on behalf of her client within the week and hopes the court would have another chance to review the defense evidence which, in her opinion, could help prove her client's innocence.
In a tearful statement, Cuadra told the court before Tuesday's final sentencing that he is innocent even though the jury decided he is guilty.
"I don't have a criminal history and I'm not a violent person. In fact, I love life and I love people, especially children," Cuadra said.
"I never killed Michelle Dunshie. In fact, she (referring to the victim's mother) killed her daughter, but I have to pay the price."
Cuadra said he loved Michelle Dunshie and would forever miss her.
Cindy Dunshie, the victim's grandmother, showed up at the sentencing on behalf of her daughter.
She told the court she wanted justice to be done, even though nothing could bring her beloved granddaughter back.
Police reports showed that medical personnel responded to an accident on Dec. 2, 2004, at a home in the 3800 block of Hearne Avenue and found the victim dead.
An autopsy determined the infant died of blunt force trauma to the head.
Cuadra, the victim's mother, and her second child lived together in the trailer at that time.