PONTIAC — Moments before Heather Lamie was sentenced to life in prison Friday, she told the judge she loved Kianna Rudesill, the 4-year-old foster child she was convicted of killing.
"I loved Kianna very deeply," said Lamie, 31, of Kankakee. "My husband and I made the decision not to give up on her and we never did. We were committed to all four [foster] kids. I spent a lot of time with Kianna; I never hurt her."
But during the trial, Livingston County State's Attorney Seth Uphoff maintained that Lamie was the only adult in the Cullom house when Kianna suffered blunt force trauma to the head on May 3, 2011. Kianna died the next day. Lamie was indicted on murder charges in June 2013. A jury returned two guilty verdicts on Oct. 7: murder and endangering the life or health of a child.
Uphoff reminded the court Friday that several doctors testified during the trial that the amount of force needed to bring about that trauma was "acute" and "catastrophic."
"Even Dr. [William] Puga [a witness for the defense] was taken back by the extent of the injuries," Uphoff said.
Lamie's attorney, John Coghlan, maintained throughout the trial, and again on Friday, that Kianna's injuries were self-inflicted, that she was a troubled child and a head-banger.
Before Livingston County Associate Judge Mark Fellheimer handed down natural life in prison sentence — mandated by law because of Kianna's age — Lamie said she wished she would have been more responsive to a bruise Kianna suffered near her ear during a fall the day before.
"I didn't think it was anything more than a bruise," she said.
But Uphoff said the injuries that killed Kianna "didn't occur the day before. It was a light's out type of event." He also noted that Kianna had defensive wounds on her hand.
"The person who inflicts that kind of violence doesn't deserve to spend life outside the walls of a state prison," Uphoff said.
In a victim impact statement written by Kianna's grandmother, Wendy Palmer, and read to the court by Uphoff, Palmer remembered the day Kianna came into her life and when she started talking.
"She'd say, 'Nana, you're my best friend,'" Palmer wrote. "Grammas are there to spoil, protect and comfort. That's been taken away from me."
She recounted going to OSF Saint Francis Medical Center in Peoria, where Kianna had been taken, and seeing her after surgery to try to relieve the pressure on her brain.
"She had staples on her head ... her long, beautiful hair had been cut," Palmer wrote. "Her head, body and hands were covered in bruises. The doctors said this was abuse. Who could have hated her so much to inflict this kind of pain on her?"
Kianna's father, James Rudesill, wrote a letter saying his "world has been turned upside down. I lost a piece of myself that day."
Coghlan submitted 63 letters from Lamie's friends and families. Lamie's mother-in-law, Sheila Lamie, testified that Heather Lamie loved Kianna and her three siblings, who also were foster children in the home.
Sheila Lamie said Heather Lamie was the "rock of the family. Her daughters need their mother," she said.
Coghlan asked the judge to acquit Lamie, saying there was insufficient evidence she committed the crimes. He said if the judge was not convinced of that, he asked the verdict be reduced to second-degree murder and referred to Uphoff's closing argument in which he speculated Lamie snapped when Kianna spilled dog food on the floor.
But Scott Ripley, a special prosecutor who helped the state with the case, said, "I don't believe you can deny that you had anything to do with it and then say, 'but if I did, I was provoked.'"
Fellheimer upheld the murder verdict and said he did not have the authority to reduce the charge. He also denied Coghlan's request for a new trial.
Lamie has 30 days to appeal. Coghlan asked the court to appoint an appellate defender.