Man involved in Wagner toddler death sentenced to 13 years in prisonA Wagner man involved in the death of a 2-year-old in July was sentenced Thursday in Lake Andes to 13 years in prison for drug crimes.
By: Anna Jauhola, The Daily Republic
LAKE ANDES — A Wagner man involved in the death of a 2-year-old in July was sentenced Thursday in Lake Andes to 13 years in prison for drug crimes.
Taylor Cournoyer, 21, wore an orange prison jumpsuit during the sentencing at the Charles Mix County Courthouse and said little. He received a 15-year sentence, with five years suspended, for possession of methamphetamines. He also received a 10-year sentence, with seven years suspended, for keeping a place for the use or sale of controlled substances. The non-suspended portions of the sentences add up to 13 years, and Cournoyer will be eligible for parole within 56 months — less than five years — of the start of his sentence.
Cournoyer pleaded guilty to the charges in October. He originally pleaded not guilty to the charges in August, and also pleaded not guilty to five counts of abuse or cruelty to a minor, one count of failure to notify law enforcement of the death of a child. All but the drug charges were dropped as part of a plea agreement.
Taylor Cournoyer is married to Laurie Cournoyer, 29. They were living together in a Wagner tribal housing project when Rielee Lovell, 2, was found dead July 4 in a closet in the home.
During the hour-and-a-half sentencing hearing, the prosecution showed pictures of the home and played audio recordings of interviews with Taylor Cournoyer after Lovell was found dead.
“He said he used methamphetamines, stays up most of the night, sleeps about 90 minutes, then gets up the next morning and uses meth again, then proceeds to clean up the house,” said Bill Golden, prosecuting attorney. “At 1:15 (p.m.) according to Mr. Cournoyer, he was looking for things and he comes across Rielee in the closet covered in blankets.”
The prosecution showed a picture of Lovell lying dead on the bathroom floor as her relatives in the courtroom cried. They also flashed a close up of the girl’s face. Cournoyer didn’t look up from the defendant’s table, but often shook his legs.
Lovell’s death went unreported for two days and an affidavit said the couple had been using methamphetamines, marijuana and prescription sleeping pills.
Agent Riley Cook of the state Division of Criminal Investigation testified Thursday for the prosecution. He was at the crime scene July 4 and “noticed the familiar smell of a decomposing body. … It was pretty steady throughout the residence.” He said the house was about 90 to 100 degrees that day.
Laurie Cournoyer pleaded not guilty to the same charges as her husband in August and is facing additional charges. She remains in the Charles Mix County Jail.
The prosecution said Taylor Cournoyer left an 11-year-old boy in charge of five other children while he used meth to get high and “deal with the stress of the children.”
“He wanted to relax and get away from them,” Golden said. “He abdicated a moral responsibility to those kids.”
In recordings from July 4, Cournoyer said he didn’t know why he didn’t notice Lovell was gone.
“I don’t know how I couldn’t know she was gone for so long,” he said in the recording. “I feel real bad on my part.”
Cournoyer said in one of the audio recordings they had taken Lovell to the emergency room in Wagner for heat exhaustion a few weeks prior to her death. The doctors told him to keep her in air conditioning. But the only air conditioner in the house was placed in a window in the master bedroom. The rest of the house was apparently about 100 degrees.
Also, Golden said the prosecution found out an FBI agent had told Taylor and Laurie Cournoyer the 11-year-old was dangerous and should not be trusted take care of the other children. He said the information was in a grand jury transcript.
“[Taylor] didn’t pay attention to the kids. He didn’t know where they were at. He didn’t know if they were alive or dead,” Golden said, referring to July 4.
Lovell was discovered by authorities in the bathroom on a towel wearing a diaper in a state of advanced decomposition, Golden said. According to the affidavit, Laurie Cournoyer had moved Lovell to the bathroom after she was discovered in the closet.
Golden showed pictures of and described the environment in which Lovell and five other children — ages ranging from 18 months to 11 years old — lived. A picture showed a used syringe lying on top of trash in a garbage can, readily accessible to all the children in the house. Other pictures showed clothing, garbage, storage bins and other general mess around the home.
“He said he brought meth into the house. He used meth in the house. Then you see he left the needles lying around the house because it was casual use,” Golden said, referring to Cournoyer. “It was normal use, and that’s the environment the children were living in.”
Golden asked for 25 years in prison with 11 years suspended as Cournoyer’s punishment.
Cournoyer’s attorney, Tom Deadrick, brought three witnesses to the stand — Cournoyer’s mother, Helen Cournoyer; his aunt, Karen Archambeau; and his employer, Loren Archambeau Jr. — to show he was a good citizen and person when not doing drugs.
Helen Cournoyer said her son was good with all the children he helped raise — four of which were Laurie Cournoyer’s children, plus Lovell and another child, who were not related to the couple.
“He was really good with them. He always talked to them and played with them. Always had them laughing,” she said. “He’d cuddle them and hugged them, bathed them, fed them.”
Karen Archambeau helped Taylor and Laurie Cournoyer get the house in the Wagner tribal housing project. She said they always paid rent on time, worked hard to get shelter for them and the children, and that they were cleared to move in through a strict application process.
Loren Archambeau Jr., who employed Taylor Cournoyer through the Tribal Agency Housing Authority as a roofer, said Cournoyer always showed up on time and was a hard worker. Archambeau said, if he were able, he’d rehire Cournoyer because of those qualities.
Cournoyer spoke briefly before his sentencing. He said he was under the influence of drugs at the time of the recordings and his statements were not interpreted correctly. He had called the six children “a******s” but said he didn’t mean it.
“The kids are mean to each other and they fight, act up sometimes. … I was under the influence of drugs,” he said.
“This is a very disturbing case of neglect,” said Judge Steven Jensen.
He said this drug case is unusual because the circumstances ultimately led to the death of a child, despite Cournoyer not being directly responsible for the death.
“But as the court views the facts in this case, he certainly bears the responsibility for things that occurred in the house over about a 24- to 36-hour period,” Jensen said. “(Lovell) was ultimately strangled to death and brutally killed. … [Cournoyer] was unfortunately unwilling to assume the responsibility he had as an adult caregiver.”
Jensen said Cournoyer appeared to be remorseful for his actions and aware of the effects drugs had on him. But Jensen questioned the extent to which Cournoyer was remorseful for the “ultimate consequences.”
Jensen gave Cournoyer 140 days credit for time he’s already served in the Charles Mix County Jail, ordered him to pay $104 in court costs, pay a $500 fine and repay court-appointed attorney fees.
“I hope you get the drug treatment you need in prison,” Jensen said. “The remainder of your sentence is a punishment for the facts in the case. Good luck to you, Mr. Cournoyer.”