COLUMBIA — A pregnant woman asked a judge Monday to give the most severe punishment possible to the father of her unborn child for killing her 6-month-old daughter and ruining her family’s life.
But Clifford P. Helmka, who had pleaded guilty in the July 2007 shaking death of Jocelyn Nivert, was sentenced to 14 years in prison — seven years fewer than the maximum allowed by law.
Boone County Circuit Court Judge Gene Hamilton sentenced Helmka, 19, to two consecutive seven-year sentences and one concurrent seven-year sentence. Helmka pleaded guilty on Jan. 7 to first-degree manslaughter, first-degree endangering the welfare of a child and felony child abuse.
At Monday’s tearful hearing, the baby’s mother, Monica Nivert, her mother, Marilyn Nivert, and father, Nick Nivert, along with at least a dozen family members and friends sat in the two front rows at the left side of the courtroom. Some wore pink ribbons bearing the image of Jocelyn’s profile above her birth and death dates, Dec. 20. 2006, and July 3, 2007, respectively.
Monica Nivert, 24, trembled and clutched a tissue in each hand as she testified during the victim impact portion of the hearing.
“This has been horrible — losing my baby, watching her die,” Nivert said.
“I’ll never be able to hold my grandbaby, never again,” Marilyn Nivert said.
Monica Nivert, who has a 4-year-old daughter from a previous relationship, was just a few weeks pregnant with Helmka’s child — due in four weeks — when Helmka shook Jocelyn to death. Helmka, who is not Jocelyn’s biological father, had been baby-sitting when he shook the infant for two to three seconds because the child would not stop crying, according to a probable cause statement from the Glasgow Police Department.
Shortly after Jocelyn stopped breathing, according to court documents, Helmka revived the child and then waited for two hours before calling Monica Nivert, who immediately came home from work.
“She was limp, barely breathing, barely conscious,” Nivert said.
Jocelyn was taken to a helipad at Fayette Hospital and then flown to University Hospital. Doctors at the hospital later said the amount of trauma Jocelyn received was similar to that of a car wreck, according to court documents. The Glasgow case was transferred from Howard County to Boone County, mainly for the convenience of University Hospital staff who treated Jocelyn, according to court documents.
Howard County Sheriff Charlie Polson testified that after Helmka was arrested and was being held in the Howard County Jail, he manipulated his jail lock using playing cards and exposed himself to Sheriff’s Department’s female staff. Helmka was absent without leave from the Army for several months before he was apprehended, according to court documents.
Howard County Prosecutor Mason Gebhardt also asked Hamilton for the maximum sentence, three consecutive seven-year terms.
But assistant state public defender, Robert L. Fleming, asked Hamilton to show mercy, pointing out that Helmka never denied his guilt and was remorseful for what he did.
“You can’t bring a child back, I can’t bring a child back,” Fleming said. “The question is what’s the best thing (to do).”
Several Boone County Jail inmates awaiting their own court appearances sneered at Helmka from the juror’s box as he stood before Hamilton to receive his sentence.
“Whatever sentence you give me is just. I deserve it every day ten-fold,” he said. “I will carry this burden until the day I die.”
But he went on to say that he had “summoned the courage” to forgive himself.
“Maybe, someday, I will become a good man,” he said.
A bill introduced in Jocelyn’s name in this legislative session in the Missouri legislature would make the mandatory minimum sentence 15 years in prison for conviction on a charge of shaking a child, according to the Missouri House Web site.
In the U.S. about 1,200 to 1,400 babies are shaken each year, according to dontshake.org. Of those, 25 percent die, and 80 percent are left with some sort of brain damage.