A St. Paul man who beat and squeezed his four-week old son to death in 2020 was sentenced Wednesday to thirty years.
Orancy Chea, 25, was sentenced in Ramsey County District Court by Judge Richard H. Kyle, Jr. for second-degree unintentional murder.
The defense asked for 20 years. The prosecution argued that aggravating factors allowed for the sentence to be doubled to 40.
Kyle chose a compromise, because, he said the only other similar case he found in which the guidelines’ sentence was doubled involved a mutual agreement between both attorneys.
“His actions were truly horrific,” Kyle said of Chea. “It deserves a sentence that is significantly higher than the sentencing guidelines.”
After first denying abuse, Chea eventually admitted during a plea hearing that he forcefully shook the baby, named Zion, and bear-hugged him so hard he could feel his ribs breaking and intentionally threw him onto a tile floor. He said the baby was crying and he lost his temper.
An autopsy revealed that Zion had a lacerated liver, a lung contusion, 14 broken ribs, a severe skull fracture, a brain bleed, internal abdominal bleeding and bruises to the head, all a result of Chea’s abuse. Zion died April 23, 2020.
Chea did not react to his sentence. He sat still in a orange jail jumpsuit, looking at the judge over his COVID mask. He has been in jail since shortly after the murder and was given a custody credit of 649 days off of his prison time.
No one came to court in person, other than his attorney, Leif Carlson. The mother of his son, Mutoni Safari, was watching via Zoom, but the court advocate spoke for her.
Prosecutor Nelson Rhodus said Chea “never once demonstrated any remorse for his actions that caused his baby’s death.”
When Chea did confess, he told the authorities, “I feel bad, number one, for myself,” Rhodus recounted. When Zion was brought to the hospital, Chea didn’t stay.
“It was my first child and he took his life. That breaks my heart. That was my happiness that he took away,” said Safari, Zion’s mother. “He deserves whatever sentence the judge gives. If he could have feelings, he could not have done what he did.”
Chea pleaded guilty Oct. 18. He will spend at least 20 years in prison, with the possibility of supervised release for the remaining time. He is from Liberia, so there remains the chance that he will be deported once he is released, Carlson said. Carlson asked for leniency, saying 40 years was “excessive.”
“I will tell you judge that over that period of time, I have seen Mr. Chea change,” Carlson said. “When this all began, he wasn’t taking responsibility. He wasn’t remorseful. He and I had a number of very heated exchanges about the case. As time went on, I think he has processed this and is in a much different place today than when this happened.”
When given an opportunity to speak, Chea gave a short history of his life. He emigrated from Liberia when he was a child, running from a war that killed half of his family, he said. He suffered PTSD and said he was diagnosed with bipolar and schizophrenic disorders.
“I just want to start by saying I’m sorry for everything,” Chea said. “I wouldn’t blame the court or the state for looking at me like a monster.”
Of Zion’s mother he said, “I wish I could rewind time and go back to the first day we met. She and my son were the best blessings God could ever give me. I’m sorry for everything.”