Sheboygan, Wis. • A Wisconsin woman convicted of killing her baby daughter more than 50 years ago was sentenced Wednesday to up to 10 years in prison, as a judge ignored a prosecutor’s recommendation of leniency in deference to the seriousness of the crime.
Ruby C. Klokow, 76, of Sheboygan pleaded no contest in February to a charge of second-degree murder stemming from her daughter’s 1957 death. A prosecutor who recommended lenience cited Klokow’s age and medical issues, as well as the challenge of prosecuting such an old case had it gone to trial.
But Judge Angela Sutkiewicz delivered a harsher sentence, saying anything but a long prison sentence would diminish the significance of an infanticide.
"What happened to Jeaneen Klokow was no accident," Sutkiewicz said. "It was caused by the defendant’s reckless actions."
As part of a plea agreement District Attorney Joe DeCecco and defense attorney Kirk Obear recommended a sentence of 45 days in jail and 10 years of probation. But a judge is not bound by plea agreements.
Obear said he was surprised by the harsher penalty and pledged to begin the appeals process Thursday morning.
"If we could do it all over again, we’d have a trial and we’d win," Obear told reporters afterward.
Klokow, who sat silently in the courtroom in a pink turtleneck sweater and black slacks, squeezed her eyes tightly when the sentence was handed down. She cried as she was led from the courtroom, and weeping supporters who reached out to touch her were nudged away by deputies.
When the death was initially investigated Klokow told detectives 6-month-old Jeaneen rolled off a couch and bumped her head. But after investigators reopened the case in 2008 Klokow acknowledged she may have thrown the baby roughly on the couch, causing her to bounce to the floor.
Klokow’s case was delayed several times after she was charged in 2011. Her mental-health status was in question but a judge ultimately decided she was competent to assist in her defense.
An initial autopsy found that Jeaneen suffered two brain hemorrhages, a partially collapsed lung and three scalp bruises. However the death was ruled accidental.
The baby’s death haunted Jeaneen’s older brother, James Klokow Jr., now 57. He says he grew up traumatized because his mother always told him he was to blame for his baby sister’s death because the girl fell when Ruby Klokow was momentarily distracted by his misbehavior.
James Klokow eventually told police in 2008 of abuse he suffered at the hands of his mother. He told investigators she often beat and choked him and kicked him with steel-toed boots, causing him a lifetime of severe knee problems. He said his mother broke his arm and nose, and described how she covered the head of his mentally challenged younger brother and struck the wailing boy’s toes one by one with a hammer.
After her son came forward, detectives questioned Klokow again about the long-ago death.
Before she was sentenced, Ruby Klokow told Sutkiewicz she was remorseful over her daughter’s death, and that it caused her a lifetime of heartbreak.
Under the terms of a plea agreement, prosecutors had recommended a 45-day jail sentence and 10 years of probation.
Besides Jeaneen and James, Klokow had a third child, Scott, who died as a baby. His body was disinterred along with Jeaneen’s as police investigated but his death couldn’t be considered suspicious, DeCecco said.
Dinesh Ramde can be reached at dramde(at)ap.org.
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