Gonzales sentenced to 130 years for fatal beating
CHAMBERLAIN -- A Gann Valley woman convicted of killing a 4-year-old boy in 2013 will spend at least the next 65 years in prison.
Donika Gonzales, 23, was sentenced Tuesday for beating to death Mason Naser in February 2013. She entered the courtroom handcuffed and in plain clothes, her expression stoic. Judge Bruce Anderson sentenced her to 130 years in prison for first-degree manslaughter and 15 years in prison for aggravated assault.
Judge Anderson said Gonzales must serve half of her sentence before becoming eligible for parole. She received credit for 495 days already served in the county jail.
Anderson also ordered Gonzales be placed in the custody of a prison outside the state of South Dakota for her own protection.
Malissa Walters, Naser's aunt, said after the sentencing she was in shock.
"I expected 25 or 50 years, but 130? I was in utter shock," she said. "I didn't know how to react."
It wasn't until an hour or so later the sentence struck her and she broke down crying.
"Donika finally got what was coming to her for what she did," Walters said. "I'm really happy with the outcome."
Gonzales was convicted in a jury trial in April of the two charges, which will run concurrent, or at the same time.
Naser was the child of Tyler Naser Sr., who Gonzales was living with at the time of the child's death, and she was caring for his children and her own children.
Assistant South Dakota Attorney General Bob Mayer, who prosecuted the case in April, argued Tuesday Gonzales be put behind bars for quite some time. He read a portion of a letter Gonzales wrote to the judge, which chronicled how she needed to keep going and plan for her life goals.
"There was no apology anywhere in any of this for what she did," Mayer said. "It's all about 'me,' poor Donika, and how to get on with her life."
Mayer reminded the judge how Gonzales abused Naser, especially over the last several months of his life. Evidence during the trial showed bruises in various stages of healing all over Naser's body, along with two broken ribs, a lacerated liver and a piece of liver in his lung.
"Judge, take a moment and place yourself in a corner to watch that scene," Mayer said.
He physically described how, on Feb. 21, 2013, Gonzales slapped Naser, pushed him on the floor with a thump and stomped on the child -- all for wetting his pants.
"Please judge, consider a very serious and substantial prison time," Mayer said.
Attorney Doug Papendick, one of Gonzales' two lawyers, did not dispute the jury's conclusion that Gonzales caused Naser's death. However, he argued Gonzales "had no intention to cause Mason's death" and does not deserve severe punishment.
Papendick presented studies that showed recidivism rates among women for violent crimes are low, especially if those convicted have no prior criminal record, like Gonzales.
Papendick asked for the possibility of house arrest with electronic monitoring at Gonzales' expense or county jail time with work release to support her children.
Gonzales chose not to speak, when given the chance.
Walters, sister of Naser's biological mother, told the court in a victim impact statement Tuesday that Naser's death has been particularly hard on his brothers. Tyler Naser Jr., who is now 5, was best friends with Naser and now acts out because he is still angry his brother is gone, Walters said.
Tre'Shawn, Naser's oldest brother, blames himself for Naser's death.
"Because he wasn't there to protect Mason. He'll say, 'If I was there, I could have been watching Mason and Donika wouldn't have gotten mad at him,' " Walters said through tears. "He blames himself and that's too much for a kid."
Walters said she doesn't entirely blame Gonzales for Naser's death. She told Judge Anderson the most tragic part is the death was preventable -- Tyler Naser Sr., Naser's father, could have ended the abuse; a social worker could have been more proactive; Naser's grandparents, who lived next door, could have intervened; or Gonzales could have just walked away to calm down. Walters hopes to see some action against these people.
"I'm not going to disappear yet. I still feel their dad, grandparents, their caseworker could have done something," she said.
Naser's paternal grandmother, Mary Naser, said Mason was always there to help out with any chore. He simply wanted to try everything and do something for everyone.
"She stole Mason and killed Mason. I don't think our family will ever forgive her, but we'll turn the other cheek," Mary Naser said.
Judge Anderson handed down his sentence after about an hour of deliberation.
"The defendant has anger and rage problems," he said. "She committed this act out of rage because Mason peed his pants. The victim was in a continuing pattern of abuse. Mason received little love in the weeks and months preceding his death."
Anderson said interviews and evidence showed Gonzales realized the stress of raising six children caused her emotional difficulties and she chose to ignore that or get help.
"The evidence in the case reveals not just manslaughter, but that Mason was subjected to a period of abuse and she had a clear indication of her wrongful behavior," Anderson said of Gonzales.
He added that Gonzales has charges pending against her for possessing methamphetamine while in the Brule County Jail.
He wants to send a strong message to the community that child abuse must stop. It affects not only the families of the victims, but has a lasting effect on the development of the victims.
"The evening Mason was killed, he knew he was in trouble," Anderson said. "He knew there was painful abuse on his doorstep."