Public Safety

Life in prison for dad who ignored infant dying in child swing

Alta Vista mother faces trial in January

Zachary Koehn, 29, enters a Chickasaw County courtoom Tuesday in New Hampton. He was sentenced to life in prison on a first-degree murder conviction in the August 2017 death of his 4-month-old son, Sterling Keohn.  (Jeff Reinitz/Waterloo Courier)
Zachary Koehn, 29, enters a Chickasaw County courtoom Tuesday in New Hampton. He was sentenced to life in prison on a first-degree murder conviction in the August 2017 death of his 4-month-old son, Sterling Keohn. (Jeff Reinitz/Waterloo Courier)
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NEW HAMPTON — Clad in jail stripes and a ballistics vest, Zachary Paul Koehn remained silent Tuesday when given the chance to comment moments before he was sentenced to life in prison for his son’s death from neglect.

The life sentence without parole is mandatory in Iowa upon conviction of first-degree murder.

Relatives of Koehn, 29, and the victim, 4-month-old Sterling Koehn, were not at the hearing.

“This is a mandatory sentence. There’s not much more that needs to be said,” said Iowa Assistant Attorney General Denise Timmins, who prosecuted Koehn. “There are no victim impact statements or anyone else to speak on behalf of the child.”

Timmins is scheduled to prosecute Sterling’s mother, Cheyanne Harris, 21, in January.

Sterling was found dead in a swing seat in a bedroom in the couple’s Alta Vista apartment in August 2017.

Doctors said Sterling died of dehydration, malnutrition and infection from diaper rash that ruptured his skin.

An entomologist said maggots found in the baby’s diaper indicated it hadn’t been changed in more than a week.

Koehn took the stand at trial in November and told jurors Harris was Sterling’s primary caregiver because he worked third-shift driving trucks.

He said he didn’t change diapers because the odor made him sick and that he occasionally fed Sterling but didn’t know the baby was in distress.

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A Henry County jury found Koehn guilty of murder and child endangerment causing death. The trial was moved out of Chickasaw County on a change of venue.

Tuesday’s sentencing came after 1st District Judge Richard Stochl turned down Koehn’s request for a new trial.

Defense attorney Steven Drahozal argued that evidence didn’t back the murder charge because Koehn took no actions that led to the child’s death.

Timmins countered that there was no way Koehn could have been unaware of his son’s condition because he and Harris lived in the same small apartment, and Koehn admitted to entering the baby’s room during the child’s last days.

“Every action the defendant chose to do in that apartment that did not involve caring for (Sterling) was a choice, an act, which led to (Sterling’s) death,” Timmins argued in challenging the request for a new trial. “Choosing to let your child slowly die a painful death is no less unlawful than beating your child’s head against a wall until the child dies.”

Harris’ trial is scheduled to begin Jan. 29 in Le Mars. Her attorneys have filed notice that she may use diminished capacity or intoxication defenses at trial, and a psychologist testified at Koehn’s trial that Harris may have been suffering from post-partum depression.

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