HIBBING — A Hibbing man has failed to convince a Minnesota appeals court that his conviction on a manslaughter charge was flawed, the Duluth News Tribune reported. In 2018, a jury in the Sixth District Court in Virginia found the man, Jesse Lee Bonacci-Koski, guilty of leaving his 11-month-old nephew Bentley Joe Lewis Koski to die in a fire in 2017 in his brother’s Tower home.
Sentenced to more than eight years at the Minnesota Correctional Facility in Lino Lakes, Bonacci-Koski, now 27, appealed the conviction, saying the trial was unfair. But on Monday, the Minnesota’s Court of Appeals upheld the jury’s decision. The three-judge panel rejected Bonacci-Koski’s arguments that the evidence did not show that he “deprived [Bentley] of age-appropriate supervision of that he placed [Bentley] in a situation likely to create substantial harm.”
The panel said that the jury found that Bonacci-Koski’s behavior “proximately caused the victim’s injury.”
“An 11-month-old child certainly requires attentive child supervision,” Judge Francis Connolly wrote in the opinion of the court of appeals, according to the Duluth News Tribune. “[Bonacci-Koski] did not provide such supervision. Instead, he left [Bentley] alone for two hours in an unlocked home while he went to use drugs. This supports the jury’s verdict that appellant’s conduct made it more likely than not that [Bentley] could suffer substantial harm.”
The panel also gave no weight to Bonacci-Koski’s contention that the trial was tainted due to a biased juror.
Bonacci-Koski had been babysitting his nephew on the morning of Aug. 2, 2017 at his brother’s home at 813 Third St. N. in Tower, according to reporting published at the time in the Hibbing Daily Tribune. Bonacci-Koski had left his nephew in an upstairs crib while he left the home to use methamphetamine. He returned several hours later to the home to find it on fire only to leave the boy again and flee alone in a stolen vehicle. He did not alert authorities. A neighbor saw the fire at 7:45 a.m. that morning.
Firefighters found the baby dead in the bedroom. The cause: smoke inhalation.
The State Fire Marshal’s report turned out inconclusive yet it noted damage to electrical outlets in the kitchen.
In October 2018, a jury convicted Bonacci-Koski of two second-degree manslaughter charges involving child neglect and endangerment, theft of a motor vehicle and fifth-degree possession of a controlled substance.
Judge Gary J. Pagliaccetti, now retired, would sentence Bonacci-Koski to 98 months in prison.
At the time, prosecutors had asked for nearly 10 years in prison, but the judge was moved by a letter submitted by Bentley’s mother, according to the previous reporting in the HDT. St. Louis County prosecutor Jessica Fralich argued for close to the maximum allowed sentence. “This was a 100 percent preventable tragedy,” Fralich reportedly said. “It was not just this family who lost their son … it was this community, this little community, who suffered.”
Public defender J.D. Schmid argued for time spent in chemical dependency treatment. “A lengthy prison sentence in this case is not going to … get Bentley back,” he reportedly said. “It’s not going to help this family recover.”
Bonacci-Koski apologized for the death of his nephew. “I’d just like to apologize,” he said. “I understand my actions were stupid. … I have to live with this for the rest of my life.”