Pine County Prosecuting Attorney, Reese Frederickson, and defense attorneys for Jonathan Michael Loun reached a plea agreement on Thursday, January 5.
Loun, 32, of Hinckley, plead guilty to second degree murder of a 2-year-old toddler, Dante Sears, before a silent courtroom audience at the Pine County Courthouse last Thursday. Loun admitted guilt to the killing of the 2-year-old who was in his care on the night of August 24, 2015.
Loun waived his right to a jury trial and admitted guilt to murder in the second degree, malicious punishment of a child to inflict great bodily harm. Under the terms of the agreement, Loun will receive a maximum sentence of 40 years in prison. Based on Minnesota’s good behavior law, Loun will serve a minimum term of 26 years and 8 months.
The defense attorneys read detailed descriptions of the events of August 24, 2015, and how they unfolded while Loun agreed to the events as read.
Loun’s attorney stated that in the evening hours of August 24, Loun had been taking Adderall, which was not prescribed to him, and drinking a substantial amount of alcohol with two children placed in his care by his then girlfriend, Jessie Anderson. The children, 2-year-old Dante Sears and his 6-year-old brother, belonged to Anderson, also of Sandstone, who had put them to bed around 8:30 that evening and left for work at the Hinckley Grand Casino around 10 p.m.
Sometime after midnight, the 2-year-old awoke needing to use the bathroom and urinated on Loun. According to the defense attorney’s statement, Loun became agitated and admitted to grabbing the boy by the scrotum and significantly injuring him. Loun admitted to more interactions of violence toward the boy between midnight and approximately 5 a.m. He stated his memory was blurry but said he was fully responsible for events.
He admitted to holding the boy by his foot and arm and throwing him to the floor causing injury to the toddler’s head. In the morning hours, Loun stated he became alert and was aware he hurt the child but called for no medical assistance nor called the mother to alert her to the toddler’s condition.
Loun left the children home alone in the apartment at approximately 5:45 a.m. and said he believed Anderson would be home at 6 a.m. Anderson arrived home and placed a 911 call from her apartment at 500 Eisenhower Street in Sandstone at 7:25 a.m. She stated she found her son, Dante, severely assaulted, bleeding from the mouth and nose and unresponsive. Soon deputies and first responders were on the scene.
A note was left on the wall by Loun, according to the charging documents, stating he had “snapped” after the toddler urinated on him. “I banged his head on the floor ... He’s not OK … I’m done with life … all I do is hurt people,” he stated in the note. Pine County deputies found Loun wrapped in a blanket hiding near a tree in a wooded area near Sunnyhill Road in Beroun in the early afternoon hours of August 25. When the deputies found Loun, he displayed a kitchen knife and began cutting his wrist. He eventually put the knife down and was taken into custody.
Medical records showed fractures to the back of the toddler’s skull which resulted in bleeding and swelling in his brain. The toddler never regained consciousness after the injuries incurred from Loun and was taken off life support on August 29, 2015. A medical examiner conducted an autopsy and ruled Sears’ death a homicide due to blunt force injury to the head.
Sears’ grandmother, Bev Olson, of Hinckley, said of the plea agreement, “We are satisfied with this agreement and decided to take the plea deal because he (Loun) wouldn’t be out again for the most amount of time. This was the best way to keep him out of the public. He has prior offenses and has been in prison before. This will keep him off the streets.”
In November 2005, Loun was charged in Pine County for criminal vehicular homicide in which he was bringing home a friend from Wisconsin back to Hinckley, according to court records. But his friend, Ricky Lamorie, wanted to walk the rest of the way home. Loun said he drove away but came back to find Lamorie and accidentally struck him with his car, killing him. In that case, he was sentenced to 41 months in prison and discharged in March of 2010.
Loun has an extensive criminal history, according to Minnesota online records. There have been 23 different cases against Loun since 2003 in 11 different counties. In 2014, Loun was charged with 2 different counts of domestic abuse, and in 2013, he was charged with possessing drugs.
The family of Dante Sears said they will be pursuing legislation to make the killing of a child an automatic first degree murder charge.
Requests from the Pine County Attorney’s Office enabled the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA) and the Pine County Sheriff’s Office to find past incidents of abuse by Loun, which Frederickson explained are required to turn a second degree murder charge into a first degree charge. With this new evidence, Frederickson was able to convene a grand jury in October of 2015 on first degree and second degree charges.
Frederickson explained that before convening the grand jury, the defense offered a straight plea (a plea in court without an agreement) on second degree murder in which the presumptive sentence under Minnesota sentencing guidelines is 15 years. This was denied by the county attorney, knowing that Loun may only end up serving 10 years for murder, and the judge refused to accept the straight plea based on arguments made by the prosecution. The prosecutors pushed forward with the grand jury indictment, leveraging for a higher sentence with the first and second degree murder charges.
However, with charges but no convictions of past abuse by Loun, the prosecutors felt they could lose the first degree charge if the case went to a jury but that they could leverage the maximum second degree sentence of 40 years with the evidence they had. The prosecution also considered the first degree sentence, with the possibility of parole at 30 years, to not be much more than the 26 years and 8 months minimum sentence that the second degree count would hold.
“The plea agreement gave some finality and closure to the family,” stated Frederickson. He added that going to a jury trial would cause Sears’ mother and family extra stress having to relive the night and week of his death if the case went to a jury trial.
“I wish there was a mandatory Minnesota life sentence in child death cases, as is the case in federal law,” added Frederickson. “But we have to work with the law as it is. Given all the circumstances and the law, I feel this was the best possible outcome.” He added that this was the most emotionally difficult case he has dealt with. “I can’t imagine how the parents and family feel. There was no great sense of victory in this case. It will not bring Dante back.”
Anderson stated of the plea agreement, “It was difficult to listen today. There were things we were hearing for the first time. But this route (the plea agreement) seemed like a for sure thing.”
In comparison to similar murder cases around the state, Loun’s case holds a strong sentence. Only one other case received the maximum of 40 years for second degree murder. The sentencing date for Jonathan Loun is March 7 at 2:30 p.m. at the Pine County Courthouse.