TWIN FALLS • No one disputes the fact that Lane Buddenhagen’s actions caused the death of a 3-year-old boy.
At Buddenhagen’s sentencing hearing Friday, up for dispute was whether the child died after a flash of anger or as a result of extensive, deliberate and ongoing child abuse.
In the end, a 5th District judge sentenced Buddenhagen to the maximum 15 years in prison possible for voluntary manslaughter, with parole an option after 5 years.
Buddenhagen was initially charged with first-degree murder in the death of the 3-year-old. The boy, who was not related to Buddenhagen, died on Aug. 7, 2011, in a Boise hospital. According to court documents, emergency personnel responded to an apartment complex at 512 Jefferson St. in Twin Falls on the morning of Aug. 6, 2011, to find the child lying on the floor of a bedroom. Buddenhagen originally told police the boy had been taking a bath and fell.
Later, Buddenhagen pleaded guilty to a charge of voluntary manslaughter. He said then that the child refused to sit down in the bath, so he pushed him down and the boy hit his head.
Friday, Judge Randy Stoker said he believes neither the doctors who treated the boy, nor defense attorneys, nor even Buddenhagen himself really knows what happened to the boy.
“I don’t know what happened,” Stoker said.
Defense attorney Doug Nelson pointed out that Buddenhagen told a cellmate in the Twin Falls County Jail a similar story about pushing the boy in a sad moment on what would have been the boy’s birthday. Nelson called it a vulnerable moment when Buddenhagen had no reason to lie.
Twin Falls County Prosecutor Grant Loebs saw things differently. While Loebs said he didn’t believe Buddenhagen set out to kill the child, he did believe the boy was a victim of deliberate child abuse.
“He couldn’t have believed he was not harming this little boy,” Loebs said.
Stoker said he believes something more happened than Buddenhagen was letting on, but that the latter was truly remorseful.
“Tears can be feigned but I think yours are sincere,” Stoker told Buddenhagen, who cried through much of the second half of the more-than-two-hour hearing.
After speaking about the different elements of sentencing, Stoker explained the main point of his 5- to 15-year sentence.
“People who drive drunk don’t intend to kill people. But when you take a life there must be major consequences,” he said. “If not, life is meaningless.”
Before the sentence was imposed, Buddenhagen spoke for about five minutes — apologizing to the boy’s mother and her family, his own family and the entire community.
“I have to step up and take responsibility,” he said. “I’d do anything to have him back.”