Eagan daycare provider Mariel Grimm faced the prospect of nearly five years in prison Thursday morning as she huddled in prayer with her family outside Dakota County Judge David Knutson’s courtroom.
A jury found Grimm guilty of first-degree assault earlier this summer after a 13-month-old boy in her care suffered traumatic brain injuries in September of last year. Though authorities accused Grimm of abusing the baby, she has maintained her innocence from the beginning, insisting the injuries did not occur under her watch, and filed an appeal.
The now 2-year-old boy, who was born healthy, survived despite initial expectations. He cannot walk, consumes food and water through a feeding tube, and suffers seizures and intractable pain, his parents said in their victim impact statements, as several attendees of the packed courtroom wept.
“I wish he had a cracked skull because that would be less severe,” the boy’s mother said. “Skulls heal. Brains don’t heal … My perfect boy has a broken brain.”
While the boy’s family asked Judge Knutson to follow Minnesota’s sentencing guidelines by giving Grimm 86 months in prison, Grimm’s attorney Marc Kurzman appealed for probation.
He called witnesses to testify to her court-ordered psychological exams, which found anger and violence to be out of her character, and to Dakota County’s evaluation of her risk level for reoffending, which was the lowest possible for any person convicted of a crime.
Kurzman repeatedly asked the judge for mercy, contending that imprisoning Grimm would traumatize her four children, interrupt their bilingual home-schooling, and bankrupt her family with childcare costs. He also submitted 52 letters of support for Grimm, written by many of her friends, family, fellow church members, and parents of children she used to care for.
Prosecutor Heather Pipenhagen focused on the aggravating factors in Grimm’s case – the vulnerability of the victim, and the care provider’s position of trust – in requesting prison time.
“All of Ms. Grimm’s good qualities ... do not mitigate what she did on September 22, 2016 to this child,” Pipenhagen said. “Make no mistake, she took his life. He’s alive, but Ms. Grimm took his life.”
In addition, Pipenhagen called Grimm’s unchanging claim of innocence “denial,” another strike against her.
Nevertheless, Judge Knutson did show mercy, diverging from sentencing guidelines by ordering Grimm to three months of county jail, two months of home monitoring, 200 hours of community service, and 15 years of probation.
The judge said he came to his decision based on Grimm’s cooperation, her lack of a prior criminal record, attitude in court, and deep family support.
“She has expressed ongoing love and support for the victim,” Knutson observed.
Following the hearing, the boy victim’s family left the courthouse in a hurry, while Grimm’s cohort of about 50 supporters prayed and sang softly in the hall.