Olson gets 18 by M. Jill Karolevitz Daren Olson, 23, a former University of South Dakota police officer, was sentenced June 14 to 18 years in the South Dakota State Penitentiary for the Oct. 11, 1999 death of his 5-month-old daughter, Jordyn.
Olson pleaded guilty to first-degree manslaughter Feb. 11. Under a plea agreement, it was stipulated that prosecutors would not ask for more than 20 years in prison, even though the class 1 felony carries a maximum life sentence.
Olson admitted to Circuit Court Judge Arthur Rusch Feb. 11 that he killed his infant daughter in a fit of anger. His attorney, Sid Strange of Sioux Falls, told the judge that on the day of Jordyn�s death, the defendant had the baby in his hands �and forcibly placed her on her changing table. That caused the skull fracture that ultimately led to her death.� An autopsy showed that the child died of blunt head trauma.
Rusch imposed the sentence after an emotionally charged day of testimony by witnesses from both prosecution and defense sides. The baby�s mother, Maria Olson, a Vermillion police officer, also addressed the court about the images that have been on her mind since the tragedy occurred.
�I think about her every day,� she said. �I was the first to arrive on the scene when we got the call. I heard her gurgling while CPR was being done. I heard that for a long time. I envision when it was time to say goodbye and I was allowed to hold her one last time. I can still feel her head in my arms. I remember seeing her in her coffin, but knowing she wasn�t really there. These are the visions that go through my mind every day and they will probably never go away.�
Rusch said he took several factors into consideration before handing down his sentence, including testimony by Dr. Rich Kaplan, one of the doctors who examined Jordyn at a Sioux Falls hospital. He related the force that was needed to cause Jordyn�s severe head injuries and subsequent death. Dr. Kaplan told the court that Jordyn sustained a fractured skull, bleeding under the surface of the skull, extensive brain swelling and retinal bleeding.
�There�s also a significant amount of truth in the statement made earlier that no punishment this court could impose would be worse than the punishment Mr. Olson is putting himself through,� Rusch said.
Olson�s brother, Derrick, made that statement during his testimony.
�He�s taking the blame, he�s put himself through enough punishment in the last eight months to last a lifetime,� Derrick Olson said.
�I don�t think anyone thinks seriously that Mr. Olson intended this to happen,� Rusch said. �But he acted out of control in a manner that resulted in serious injury and death. Why it happened, I don�t know, but I�m satisfied that Mr. Olson regrets what he did and has shown significant sorrow, but that doesn�t bring Jordyn back. I also don�t
know what would bring healing back to the people who are in pain now as a result of this.�
Olson�s lawyer noted how stress can result when two parents, each with full-time jobs also have to care for two youngsters.
�Frustration bubbles to the surface,� Strange said. �If Daren thought for a moment that he would harm either of his daughters, do you think he would not have sought help? Daren simply didn�t know he was capable of harming one of his own children. Something inside snapped and his actions are something that will haunt him and the people of this family forever.�
Strange�s recommendation for a sentence included one year in the county jail with work release and community service.
Throughout the hearing, Clay County State�s Attorney Tami Bern, assisted by Paul Bechand of the SD Attorney General�s office, called witnesses who testified that Olson was not honest about the events of the day Jordyn died. Division of Criminal Investigation Agent Emmet Warkenthien testified that he interviewed Olson three times, getting three different stories before he was satisfied that the truth had been told.
Other witnesses for the state, including Maria�s family members, contended that Olson could have asked for help to deal with the stresses in his life that apparently led him to snap. They also pleaded for a strong sentence.
�I understand what he did, but I don�t know why,� said Heather Anderson, Maria�s sister. �He should get life. The man should not walk. Jordyn didn�t get to walk.�
Defense witnesses included former South Dakota Governor Frank Farrar, a family friend from Britton.
�Daren told me that Jordyn was a wonderful baby. He loved the baby, loved his wife and stepdaughter, Tiffany,� Farrar said. �He made a mistake. He did not intend to kill that child.�
Derrick Olson said there was no doubt in his mind that his brother had assumed full responsibility for Jordyn�s death.
�He never ducked the issue at all,� he said. �He�s taking the blame.�
Bern, however, argued in her closing statement that �while he pled guilty, he hasn�t stepped up to the plate to take responsibility for what he�s done,� she said. �As she lay there dying he did nothing to aid in the diagnosis of that baby and that�s the choice he made � to protect himself and continue to lie. But the physical evidence doesn�t lie.
�The force he used had to be incredible,� Bern continued. �He hasn�t told us about that. After Jordyn�s death, he told Maria he couldn�t remember what happened. He was still taking the cowardly way out. But his memory magically reappeared for the pre-sentence report.�
Bern dismissed leniency as inappropriate and ludicrous.
�He is not deserving of this court�s mercy,� she said. �He didn�t show mercy to Jordyn.� Bern then recommended a sentence of 20 years. �He killed his child. He�s not entitled to a free killing,� she said.
As Daren Olson spoke to the court, he said �The fact that I did this to our child is something I just couldn�t admit to myself � that I had taken the life of another person who couldn�t even defend herself. I have many wishes right now, but my foremost wish is that I could trade places with her. I wish I could give my wife the chance to hold her again and see her smiling face.�
Olson also apologized to friends and family.
�I know how much she meant to everybody,� he said of Jordyn. �And I�m sorry to Maria and Tiffany for taking their daughter and sister. And last, I�m sorry to Jordyn. I didn�t give you a chance to live your life.�
Patty Anderson, Jordyn�s grandmother and Maria Olson�s mother, addressed the court, saying �I�m not here to judge, but even though Daren admitted to killing Jordyn, he still has his freedom and had it longer than Jordyn had life. Daren was disappointed with his life and took it out on Jordyn. Please, judge, sentence him to the maximum that you can, and take him today because he has had his freedom.�
Although Bern argued against it, Olson was allowed 48 hours following the sentencing to get his personal affairs together before incarceration.