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Dave Olson, Published February 25 2010

Man gets three years for death of child while baby-sitting

Arthur Berger said Wednesday that he is haunted by what happened to a baby girl he accidentally killed while baby-sitting her in October.

“I think about it every time I try to go to sleep,” Berger said after pleading guilty Wednesday in Cass County District Court to charges of negligent homicide and abuse or neglect of a child.

Judge Georgia Dawson then sentenced Berger to three years in prison followed by seven years of probation.

According to information disclosed during Wednesday’s hearing, Berger had been drinking alcohol the night he agreed to baby-sit the 2-month-old daughter of friends.

He took a nap on a couch, placing the child between himself and the couch back.

When the child’s parents returned home, they found Berger on top of the child, who was unresponsive and could not be revived.

An autopsy showed the child died of suffocation.

Testing showed Berger’s blood-alcohol level was about 0.15 percent.

Berger told Dawson he had been drinking that night and he said when he went to the couch to lie down he placed the girl between himself and the back of the couch to keep her from falling off.

“I must have rolled on top of her, I did not mean to. I’m very sorry.” Berger said.

“There is no question this conduct was reprehensible,” Dawson said, adding, however, that she believed Berger was truly remorseful.

Dawson said the child’s parents indicated through a victim impact statement that they wanted “a life for a life,” but she said she didn’t believe that was what justice required.

Her sentence of five years in prison, with two of those years suspended, fell between the state’s recommended sentence – five years in prison followed by five years of probation – and the recommendation of Berger’s attorney, Daniel Gast, who suggested two years in prison followed by treatment.

Dawson said she would not follow a state recommendation that Berger be required to register as an offender against children, stating, “I don’t think he’s a danger to children in general.”

Speaking after the hearing, Gast agreed.

“Nobody meant for anything to happen, but a child did die,” Gast said, adding that he felt the sentence Berger received was fair.

“He can still live a good life when he gets out,” Gast said of Berger, who is in his mid-40s.

Assistant Cass County State’s Attorney Reid Brady also thought the sentence was fair.

“She (the judge) considered all the factors,” Brady said, adding that included Berger’s lack of a criminal record.


Readers can reach Forum reporter Dave Olson at (701) 241-5555