"A beautiful little boy who loved to tease and play ... and had a big smile on his face."
"Just pure joy to be with ... you lit up my life."
"A little conductor in the sky, wailing on his horn for when it's time for all of us to board."
Those were just some of the stories shared during the victim impact statements by his parents, and two of his grandparents, at the sentencing of a Pine County man on Tuesday afternoon, who was given a 40-year sentence for the murder of a three-year-old boy.
Jonathan Michael Loun was sentenced in the killing of Dante Sears before approximately 40 people in the courtroom. At minimum, Loun, 32, will serve at least the next 26 years and 8 months in the state prison system.
Family, friends, law enforcement and county employees were in the court. Many had a photo of Dante pinned on their shirts, and others were wearing t-shirts with Dante's smiling face.
Assistant County Attorney Michelle Skubitz, who presented in court before Judge Krista K. Martin, in her remarks, said she was also prosecuting for the state back in 2005, before Martin as well, when he was charged with criminal vehicular homicide. Loun was driving a car in which he ran over his friend and sentenced to 41 months in prison.
Like the case involving Sears, Skubitz said instead of calling for help, he ran away. At this point, Loun had a loud expletive-laden outbursts, which included several "expletive this" to the court. Judge Martin told Loun she would not tolerate this behavior, and said he would be removed if there was one more outburst. Judge Martin asked for additional law enforcement, including Sheriff Jeff Nelson who was in the courtroom, to stand behind Loun after the outburst.
Photos of Dante were put up on a easel just feet away from Loun, who did not look in the direction when any of the victim impact statements were either read or read into the record by his parents, Jessica Anderson and Dustin Sears, and his grandparents, Bev Olson and Bruce Bramer.Olson, in her statement, said they all wished they could "go back those six months before this evil ever came into our lives and took you (Dante) away from us."
On August 24, 2015, Loun was taking care of two of Anderson's children, since she was working the night shift at Grand Casino Hinckley. According to court records, Loun said he was taking adderall, which was not prescribed, and also drinking a substantial amount of alcohol. When the mother left, both children were in bed. Sometime after midnight, Sears got up to use the bathroom and urinated on Loun, which agitated him, and led to violence against the toddler between midnight and 5 a.m. Loun also admitted that he threw the child to the floor. At no time, did he call the mother or authorities for medical assistance. He left the apartment around 5:45 a.m. He left a note on the wall of the apartment saying he "snapped."
The mother arrived home around 7:30 a.m. and found her son, severely assaulted, bleeding from the mouth and nose and unresponsive.
Authorities found Loun hiding near a tree in Beroun that same afternoon. Loun displayed a kitchen knife and began cutting his wrist. He was taken into custody.Sears never regained consciousness and was taken off life support four days later. The medical examiner ruled the death a homicide from a blunt force injury to the head.
In January, a plea agreement was reached that the victim's family agreed with in which Loun pleaded guilty to second-degree murder, malicious punishment of a child to inflict great bodily harm. 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.For the family and friends of Dante, Tuesday was about their love of Dante, and how the brutal murder of him has changed their whole lives.
Dustin Sears said no matter what activity he does now, he will always remember Dante, whether it is making breakfast, watching TV, doing the dishes, or just getting in the car. "Every time I hear a train there's a little voice in the back of my head that whispers 'choo choo.' There is a tear disguised as a smile every time I hear a baby laugh, cry or coo. Every child I see has Dante's eyes, his lips, ears and nose," Sears told the court.
Anderson said she had to move since it was too painful for her to stay at the apartment, after living there for many years. Even after she moved, she said she could not unpack because "it was not home for me."
"As a mother, I never thought I would end up planning a funeral for my child. My heart breaks each day. I wake up each day and there is no Dante. I go to bed each night and Dante is not here. I and all of Dante's family have been robbed of the things that could have been, Dante's birthdays and milestones, Dante's school years where we could have watched him grow and maybe try out for sports, or maybe he would have played in the school band. Those things are now gone," Anderson said.
Said Bramer: "I miss my little buddy all the time. Dante had such a big heart. He loved everyone, even people that are weak and cowardly and evil."
- Additional information for this story provided by Emilee Franklin.