“I am angry that someone could do this to a 2-year-old,” Juneau Superior Court Judge Philip Pallenberg said in court on Wednesday. “And I cry for what she has lost.”
Pallenberg was speaking to Nicholas Kokotovich III, 24, the Juneau man who pleaded guilty to first-degree assault, a class ‘A’ felony, for beating his ex-girlfriend Adrienne Hosiner’s 2-year-old daughter Reina so badly in May 2010 that she almost died.
The Empire generally does not name victims of domestic violence. However, an Empire reporter interviewed Adrienne Hosiner for a June 2010 article, and she consented to the use of her daughter's name then.
Pallenberg sentenced Kokotovich to 20 years with five suspended, and five years of probation upon release.
The presumptive term for the crime was 7 to 11 years for someone with no prior offenses. Kokotovich had no priors, but Pallenberg noted that the court found aggravating factors that compelled him to impose a stricter sentence.
Those factors included that the victim was vulnerable because she was so young, that it was domestic violence because Kokotovich lived in the same home, and that Kokotovich, in his own words, said that he struck Reina, told her to go to her room and then followed her there and punched her. The crime was also determined to be among the most serious of class ‘A’ felonies, another aggravating factor.
“I think a grown man with his fists that beats a 2-year-old almost to death,” Pallenberg said haltingly. “That is among the most serious.”
The plea agreement called for a sentence of no more than 15 years to be served if the court accepted it. Pallenberg stated he almost rejected the plea agreement and wanted to impose a sentence of longer than 15 years but decided not to because the case had gone on for 17 months and a rejection of the plea would cause the case to go on for another year.
Pallenberg stated before sentencing that if the court accepted the plea agreement, then Kokotovich would be eligible for parole after serving 10 years.
“Ten years from the day of Mr. Kokotovich’s arrest Reina would be 13,” Pallenberg said. “A point where she will be in middle school. Where she should be playing sports, learning about the world, hanging out with her friends, going to middle school dances with her first boyfriend. We don’t know what the future holds for Reina. I hope she can overcome a lot of these problems, but we don’t know that.”
Pallenberg went on to say Reina would most likely be learning how to use her motorized wheel chair, going to therapy and learning activities of daily living in her special education class.
Pallenberg stated that if Kokotovich got a 15-year sentence he would not be released in 10 years because he lost good time for throwing feces at a correctional officer last year.
“That incident shines a little light in what I see as Mr. Kokotovich’s anti-social behavior,” Pallenberg said. “When you are faced with a situation as horrific as this one there are really only two things you can do. You can cry or you can get angry. My feelings are a little bit of both.”
Pallenberg noted common assault cases are a bar fight where a man gives another man a black eye. He noted every once in a while a bar fight escalates where a guy beats the “you know what out of him.” He noted that every once there is case where someone assaults a child and every once in a while people snap and hit little children.
“This case is unusual and inexplicable in that Mr. Kokotovich didn’t hit this child once,” Pallenberg said in tears. “He beat the crap out of this child. I don’t understand how that can happen. I don’t understand how a person can do that.”
Pallenberg said our society and our culture depend on how we treat our children.
“The very survival of our species depends on that,” Pallenberg stated.
During the sentencing, Assistant District Attorney Amy Williams projected photos of Reina in a hospital bed. Doctors were keeping her alive. Tubes kept her breathing and nourished. Her head was bandaged where bone had been surgically removed to allow her brain to swell out instead of down into her brain stem and spinal cord, which would have killed her.
There were photos of multiple impact injuries and bruises to her head, face, arms, legs, genital area and back.
Juneau Police Department detectives Kim Horn and Elias Joven testified to interviews with Kokotovich.
Horn said she has seen 2-year-olds in car accidents that were not as severely injured.
The officers said within a half hour of their receiving the call from Bartlett Regional Hospital emergency attendants, Reina needed immediate medevac.
The officers said in an interview with Reina’s mother, Kokotovich said he had turned to get a diaper and Reina had fallen off bed. He called the mother at work and said Reina was not breathing right.
On the way to the hospital, Hosiner noted Reina looked pale and drugged and started to make a gurgling breathing sound. Hosiner instructed Kokotovich to hold her head up while she drove them to the hospital.
“She was dying at this point in the car on the way to the hospital,” Seattle Harborview Medical Center Dr. Naomi Sugar said from the witness stand. Sugar said an MRI at Harbor View showed parts of Reina’s brain were dead due to severe brain injury and swelling and some parts might recover.
Dr. Marna Schwartz testified that she has known Reina since she was 6 months old. She spoke about the discussions for comfort care for Reina when at Seattle.
“Comfort care is anticipating that your patient is going to die,” Schwartz said on the stand. “And you are going to do whatever you can do to make them comfortable.”
Schwartz discussed plans they had if Reina pulled her tubes out, and plans for organ donation.
Schwartz testified Reina has had bone flap replacement, shunt placement and a tonsillectomy for improved sleep. Reina undergoes hours of physical therapy daily and a long-term doctor’s goal of walking again has been reevaluated.
Reina is totally dependent on others and not operating at the typical 4-year-old level.
Joven said that Kokotovich initially stated the assault happened by a mafia drug group he had stolen $500,000 and 10 kilos of cocaine and heroin from in Portland. Family members interviewed said Kokotovich had not been to Portland.
Kokotovich called police May 18 to admit his assault. In an interview at with Juneau Police Department officers, he admitted to leaving Reina to meet a friend at Safeway, buying a gram of cocaine, driving to another location and snorting the entire gram, and returning home where he beat Reina for saying “no” when told to go to bed.
Kokotovich was arrested June 11, 2010. Kokotovich pleaded not guilty but changed his plea on March 8, 2011.
At sentencing, Williams noted that while this portion was about the defendant and addressing his needs, the one person whose life was most affected is the one person who cannot address the victim.
“Does she remember what it is like to run, to walk, to jump?” Williams asked about Reina. “Does she remember what it is like to wake up with her mother on Saturday morning or to visit her grandparents? Worse than that, does she remember the fear she felt when assaulted by Nicholas Kokotovich?”
Kokotovich’s attorney David Seid said the court had to consider the defendant in the system, that he came from a disadvantaged childhood, that he is just 24 and, although an uncertain juvenile record it was not a violent one.
During sentencing testimony on Wednesday a video was shown of Reina visiting the JPD just two days ago. She is seen dragging herself across the floor, as she cannot use her left arm, leg, or left side of her body.
She plays with a stuffed bear; she plays with officers, she asks, as best she can, for water. She drags herself over to the water fountain and is lifted up to drink.
When it is time to go she is asked if she is ready. Reina says “no” and plays on the floor with officers some more.
“I think this case does border on an attempted murder case,” Pallenberg said before his judgment. “It is not inconceivable that Mr. Kokotovich could have been charged with attempted murder. The case in terms of it’s serious does border on that in my mind. The facts of this case, both in terms of the level of violence to which this child was subjected and in terms of the consequences of it, warrants a worst offense designation.”
• Contact reporter Klas Stolpe at 523-2263 or at email@example.com.
• Editor's note: This article has been edited from it's original form to reflect the correct spelling of Dr. Marna Schwartz' name, and to correct Adrienne Stone's last name.