Barring a successful appeal, Stephen West will spend the rest of his life in prison for the death of an 18-month-old girl under his care last year.
A Hall County jury found West guilty Tuesday in the June 2011 death of Kaylee Kipp.
Autopsy reports showed the Gainesville girl died as a result of several blows to the head.
It took the jury less than three hours to determine West was responsible, declaring the 23-year-old guilty of one count of malice murder, four counts of felony murder, three counts of cruelty to a child in the first degree and one count each of aggravated assault and cruelty to a child in the second degree.
Some of the cruelty charges stem from testimony and evidence that two other children in the home, also daughters of Deanna Renee Kipp, West’s live-in girlfriend, were also the target of his abuse.
Superior Court Judge Andrew Fuller gave West the maximum sentence for the charge, sentencing him to life in prison without the possibility of parole, plus 20 years for the charge of cruelty to children.
Fuller said the sentence, handed down within minutes of the verdict, was necessary retribution for the “extremely heinous act that (West) committed against Kaylee.”
West’s attorney has 30 days to appeal.
Kaylee was found unresponsive at an apartment complex on Gainesville’s Riverside Drive last year.
Police determined the child had been dead for quite some time before they were called; her body was cold and stiff to the touch.
Two other children in the home also were found to have bruising and injuries that were “highly suspicious” of abuse, according to court testimony from a nurse practitioner who examined the children on the day of Kaylee’s death.
Kaylee’s mother has also been charged in her death.
The mother’s case will likely go to trial later this year.
Before Fuller decided whether West’s life sentence would include the possibility of parole, his stepmother, 77-year-old Christine West, spoke on his behalf, telling the judge West had “been a good son” and that she loved him “dearly.”
“I’d like to have him home, but whatever happens, I love him as my son,” she said.
Before he was found guilty of murder, West had no prior criminal record. The clean history usually works in a defendant’s favor during sentencing, and West’s attorney, Leonard Parks, Jr., asked Fuller to consider that.
But Hall County’s chief assistant district attorney Lindsay Burton asked the judge to disregard those factors.
“No criminal history doesn’t matter in a case like this,” she said. “He preyed on a child who could not stand up for herself ... he brutally beat to death an 18-month-old child and tortured two others.”
Parks also asked the judge to consider West’s age. Even with a sentence that granted him the possibility of parole, West would be in his 50s before he ever got a chance to go before a parole board, Parks said.
The possibility of parole, Parks said, would give West an incentive to work toward a better life instead of “locking him away like an animal.”
Despite West’s age, Fuller said the circumstances of the case — the evidence that West had beaten children, resulting in the death of one — were too serious to give a lesser sentence.
The weeklong trial had been an emotional one. During prosecutors’ closing arguments, jurors, attorneys and observers had tears in their eyes as they were confronted with a photograph of the smiling 18-month-old.
Fuller said he hoped that West would consider the fact he was still alive, and said that fact alone should give West an incentive to change his life.
“You took that opportunity from Kaylee,” Fuller said.
Kaylee’s biological father thanked the jury for its work, saying he could finally begin to put his daughter’s death behind him.
“I loved my daughter very much,” he said. “I never got to tell her goodbye.”
West showed little emotion as a court officer read the verdict and did not turn back to look at his stepmother as he exited the courtroom in handcuffs.
Both West and Deanna Kipp have remained in jail since their arrests last year. West’s sentence will account for time served.
Court documents allege Deanna Kipp also “willfully deprive(d) the child of necessary sustenance to the extent that the health and well-being of Kaylee Kipp was jeopardized by failing to seek medical care for the child after injury.”
In addition to the charges she and West share, Deanna Kipp has also been charged with an additional count each of felony murder and cruelty to a child.