Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Middletown man sentenced to 7 years in godson's death

Robert Knutsen faced 5 to 10 years for child endangerment

BY JENNIFER AMATO Staff Writer

NEW BRUNSWICK — A Middletown resident was sentenced to seven years in prison on a charge of endangering the welfare of a child during his sentencing hearing Jan. 6 in state Superior Court.

Robert Knutsen, 33, formerly of North Brunswick, was on trial for aggravated manslaughter, reckless manslaughter and two second-degree counts of child endangerment during his trial in October. He was initially charged with beating his godson and future stepson, Nikolas Chavez III, to death on Nov. 30, 2005, at the North Brunswick home he shared with his fiancée at the time, Nicole Rosol.

Knutsen was acquitted of all charges except one count of child endangerment for failing to provide proper medical attention by waiting too long to call 911.

Having served 100 days in prison thus far, Knutsen can apply at the 180-day mark to an Intensive Supervision Probation program, meaning he could be released even earlier than when he is eligible for parole in one year and four months. He is currently lodged at the Middlesex Adult Correction Center in North Brunswick but will be transferred to state prison, said his attorney Robert Honecker Jr.

Honecker had originally asked Judge Dennis Nieves to treat the child endangerment charge as a third-degree offense, which would have carried a sentence of three to five years instead of five to 10 years for a second-degree crime.

Knutsen has 45 days from the time of his sentencing to file an appeal.

"We plan to appeal the verdict of the jury, as well as Judge Nieves' sentence," Honecker said. "We believe on the facts and the circumstances of the case that a lesser sentence should have been applied."

Nieves told Assistant Middlesex County Prosecutor Marcia Silva and Honecker that although the boy's death has affected all of the families involved, he cannot get the image of the 3-year-old's lifeless body on the autopsy table out of his head.

"It is touching from both sides. This is a tragedy; there is no other way of putting it. The tragedy is, this was a beautiful little boy who once walked this earth," Nieves said.

He also noted some prior offenses Knutsen had, such as violating a local ordinance, a harassment charge and a contempt charge.

Although Honecker argued that Knutsen did not willfully or deliberately fail to provide adequate medical attention despite waiting 10 to 15 minutes after the boy's alleged seizure before calling 911, Silva said that the state tried to prove that Knutsen allegedly beat the boy to death.

Knutsen defended his own actions afterward, saying that he "loved Nikolas with all my heart," and that "I can honestly say I did the best I could" to save him.

"If I had known of his severe internal injuries, I would have acted differently," he said.

However, Silva argued that Knutsen's "complete and total disregard" for Nikolas caused his death.

"Each day I wake up to my heart breaking," the boy's mother, Nicole Rosol, told Nieves. "My arms ache just to hold him. … I am unable to love, to trust, to truly live. … We all died the day Nikolas was taken from us."

Silva said that although she was "disappointed with the jury's verdict," "given that it was second-degree child endangerment, I think seven years is a fair sentence." She said that the Rosol family, too, were satisfied with the sentencing.

The Chavez family, who represent Nikolas' biological paternal relatives, said they were not represented well in court and do not believe Knutsen's sentence was just.

"We're very upset with what the jury decided because to us, it is very black and white," said Nikolas' aunt, Judy Chavez.

She noted that both medical experts who testified during this year's trial, as well as last year's aggravated manslaughter trial that ended in a hung jury, agreed that Nikolas died from homicide.

"Who did it then? … The baby did not kill himself," she said. "[Knutsen] robbed us," Judy Chavez said.

She said that there were exaggerated stories presented about her brother Nick during the trial, and that her family "was thrown to the side [although] we were the family [Nikolas] wanted to be with." She said her family believes there were prior instances of neglect and abuse that were not brought forth during the trial.

However, Judy Chavez said that her family is "praying for justice and will continue to work on Stars and Planes: The Nikolas Chavez III Foundation to help other children who may get caught up in the system because their parents are separated.

http://ind.gmnews.com/news/2009-01-15/front_page/032.html