Chesterton Tribune

Liberty man formally charged in death of 7 month old boy

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A Liberty Township man was formally charged today in connection with the death of his girlfriend’s infant son.

Benjamin M. Willis II, 23, of 1811 Vail Drive, was charged with neglect of a dependent and battery, both Class A felonies punishable by a term of 20 to 50 years.

Willis was also charged with a Class D felony count of battery, punishable by a term of six months to three years.

According to the probable cause affidavit filed by Det. Eric Jones of the Porter County Sheriff’s Police, at 2:22 p.m. March 8 officers and EMS personnel were dispatched to Willis’ home in response to a 911 call about a “baby gasping for breath.”

EMS personnel at the scene, Jones stated in his affidavit, subsequently noted “swelling and crunching of bones on the back” of the head of Keagan Fishel, 7 months. Keagan was airlifted to a children’s hospital in Indianapolis, where the attending physician diagnosed “an impact injury,” described “the force required to inflict such an injury”—which “could have been caused by a fist or a hand”—as “violent and extremely forceful,” and indicated that Keagan “would not have been verbal or conscious after the impact occurred.”

Keagan was pronounced dead at 8:45 a.m. March 10.

In an autopsy conducted on March 12, forensic pathologist Dr. Ken Obenson determined that Keagan died of blunt force trauma to the head. “The injuries seen to (Keagan’s) skull were severe, with multiple fractures and hemorrhages within and outside the skull,” Jones stated. “Dr. Obenson stated that this type of injury does not occur by a slip, a fall, or even if a child were accidentally dropped during a bath.”

Keagan’s mother, Sasha Sabates—described by relatives and friends as “never (displaying) angry or violent tendencies or responses to her children,” Jones stated—gave investigators this account of the events prior to her discovery of Keagan, injured, in his crib:

•At 10:30 a.m. Sabates’ 2-year-old son woke up.

•At 11 a.m. she gave the 2-year-old and Keagan a bath.

•At 12:30 p.m. she gave Keagan a bottle and laid him down for a nap.

•At 12:45 p.m. she went into the master bedroom to shower, taking the 2-year-old with her.

•At 1 p.m. Sabates finished her shower and Keagan “was quiet.”

•A short time later, Willis left the residence to purchase pop and cigarettes, then returned. Around this time Sabates “realized it should almost be time for (Keagan) to wake up and went into the kitchen to start to prepare a bottle.”

•At this point Willis told her that Keagan was “fussing” and then walked “down the hallway in the direction of the boys’ room for a few minutes.” When Willis returned, Sabates asked him whether he actually entered the boys’ room and he said that he did not, “only half-way.” Sabates herself went to the door of the boys’ room and “heard (Keagan) was quiet.”

•After finishing Keagan’s bottle, Sabates went to fetch Keagan and “immediately saw that he had vomited on himself a lot and was very pale. She knew something was wrong. She immediately picked (Keagan) up and ran outside to yell for Willis to call 911.”

•Willis “looked at (Sabates) strangely,” Jones stated. “She had to yell several times, without Willis reacting much, before he finally responded and came over near her. Since both of their cell phones had been turned off the day before, according to Willis, he had to go to the neighbor’s to use a phone.”

Interviews

Over the course of the next few days, investigators interviewed several persons acquainted with Willis.

Sabates herself advised that, in February, she suspects that Willis hurt Keagan when she left the infant alone with him in the car while she went into a convenience store, Jones stated. On returning to the car, Keagan had a “red mark on the outside” of his eye, which later developed into a bruise.

In addition, Sabates, Willis’ ex-girlfriend, and Willis’ ex-roommate all told investigators that they have seen Willis abuse his two pitbull dogs, punching them “when he was angry with them” and slamming the door on the dogs’ heads and bodies, Jones stated.

In connection with those allegations, Willis has also been charged with torturing or mutilating a vertebrate animal and with animal cruelty.

Willis himself denied hurting the infant, advised that he “was certain (Sabates) would not do this to her son,” and tentatively offered two theories as to what happened, Jones stated: either that his ex-girlfriend entered the residence and “injured” Keagan or that Sabates dropped her son while giving him a bath. Willis, however, was committed to neither theory, indicated later that he didn’t believe his ex-girlfriend was involved, and added that the plastic bathtub wasn’t “hard enough to cause the type of injury that (Keagan) sustained to his head,” Jones stated.

Willis further acknowledged having once had anger problems in high school and admitted to texting his ex-girlfriend and “threatening” her as well as slashing her tires, Jones stated.

Finally, although Willis advised that his cell phone and Sabates’ had been turned off the previous day, a witness told investigators that, while assisting at the residence prior to EMS arrival, he heard a cell phone “ringing inside the house with a country song ring tone,” Jones stated. Willis, for his part, advised that he used to have a country song ring tone but “changed it a couple of months ago.”

 

 

Posted 3/16/2012