FOLEY -- A Benton County judge has sentenced a former St. Joseph man to 25 years in prison for killing a 7-month-old boy in Rice.

Thirty-one-year-old James Wood pleaded guilty in December to 2nd-degree unintentional murder while committing a felony in the death of Noah Belgarde.

Assistant Benton County Attorney Karl Schmidt says it was an upward departure from the state guidelines because of aggravating factors in the case. The judge ruled that because another child witnessed the murder, a stronger sentence was warranted.

According to the charges, Wood went to the home in Rice in October 2018 to stay the weekend with his girlfriend and her two children. Records show the mom put the boy down to sleep in a rocking bassinet around 8:00 p.m. and the other child went to sleep about an hour later.

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The mother told investigators she checked on both boys before going to bed around midnight. The mom said both boys were asleep and were in good health when she checked on them. Records show Wood did not go to bed at that time.

The following morning, the mother told police she went to check on the baby and found him not breathing, cold to the touch, and with bruises on his face. Wood's vehicle was gone and text messages to him went unreturned.

When officers arrived at the home, they overheard the mom ask the older boy if he saw anything and the boy respond that "James hit him" and said, "he is naughty". The boy later demonstrated to police how Wood hit the infant by hitting himself in the forehead.

Wood was later found in the Morrison County Jail being held on DWI charges after authorities there say he was arrested for driving northbound in the southbound lanes of Highway 10.

Wood is also being sentenced for the death of 2-year-old Billy Chapman in southeast St. Cloud in 2015.

Wood had been watching the boy while his mother was at work that day. Medical experts determined Chapman died from complications related to a traumatic brain injury highly associated with violent shaking or slamming. The boy also had a fractured arm that had no signs of healing which indicated the injury was recent. An autopsy determined Chapman's death was the result of a stroke associated with multiple blunt force injuries and the manner of death was homicide.

Wood pleaded guilty to the Sherburne County murder charge on the same day he pleaded guilty to killing Noah Belgarde. His Sherburne County sentence is 18 years but will be served concurrently, or at the same time, as his 25-year term handed down in Benton County.

 

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