By Liz Shepherd
COLUMBIA CITY — After a three-hour sentencing with emotional testimony, Courtney Kincaid, the 30-year-old Columbia City babysitter found guilty in the death of 11-month-old Emma Grace Leeman, has been sentenced to 30 years in prison.
Kincaid’s sentence was delivered Thursday, Aug. 27, after the court heard a series of statements from Kincaid’s family members and Emma Grace’s parents.
Kincaid did not give any type of statement during court proceedings Thursday.
On April 12, 2018, Kincaid was babysitting Emma when Emma sustained severe injuries to her skull. Emma later died as a result of her injuries on April 13, 2018. The manner of death was ruled a homicide. Emma Grace’s parents are Nick and Sherry Leeman, Pierceton.
During a five-day jury trial in July, Kincaid was found guilty on three criminal charges. For aggravated battery and neglect of a dependent resulting in death, both level 1 felonies, Whitley Circuit Court Judge Matthew Rentschler sentenced Kincaid to 30 years in the Indiana Department of Correction for each count. Both counts will be served concurrently. A charge of battery with death to a person under 14 years old, a level 2 felony, was dismissed.
Defense Attorney Zach Baber called six witnesses to testify on Kincaid’s behalf, including Kincaid’s mother and husband. Each witness spoke about Kincaid’s behavior, all in agreement that Kincaid is not a violent person, describing her as compassionate and always wanting to help others.
Andrea Blankenship, Kincaid’s mother, described Kincaid as a mother figure and mentor.
“She would observe people and listen, and if anybody had a want or a need, she would find a way to give someone that need or want,” said Blankenship. “The most joy she gets is from helping people.”
According to Blankenship, after her 2019 arrest in this case, Kincaid began volunteering and went to food banks to help single mothers and struggling parents. Blankenship has visited Kincaid at the Whitley County Jail following her incarceration after the jury trial and said female inmates have talked with her about Kincaid’s kindness and love. One woman told Blankenship she was detoxing in the same room as Kincaid when Kincaid got down on the floor with her and comforted her.
“There’s not a violent bone in her body,” said Blankenship. “Courtney is the epitome of humble and kind…the sweetest person you would ever meet.”
Brad Kincaid described Courtney as always doing whatever she could to help others.
“She’s always giving,” said Brad. “If I thought in my heart at all she was capable of these things, the kids and I would have been gone a long time ago. It’s not in her heart. She couldn’t have done this.”
JoElla and Dean Kincaid, Brad’s aunt and uncle, also testified on Courtney’s behalf, describing her character as compassionate and loving. The couple have known Courtney for approximately 13 years.
“I never saw her spank her kids or even raise her voice at them when there was issues,” said JoElla. “She’s always put others before herself and is generous, loving, kind and compassionate.”
“She’s always putting others’ needs in front of her own,” said Dean. “She’s always been there for us. She loves people passionately and would do anything for anybody.”
Zachary Kincaid, Brad’s cousin, said the incident that occurred is “not within Courtney’s character.”
“Courtney is a good person with a soul and heart for others,” said Zachary. “She was really there to support others wherever she was needed. I never would suspect Courtney to cause physical harm to anybody.”
Miranda Gaff, Courtney’s friend, also testified, reflecting on her volunteerism even after her arrest.
“Courtney is not the type of person who would harm someone, let alone a child,” said Gaff. “Even through this process, she has been volunteering and putting herself out in the public eye. That’s how much it means to her to give back. It was something she chose to do. I’ve never seen Courtney get to a point of anger, definitely not through violence. And I’ve seen her on some pretty rough days.”
Whitley County Prosecutor Daniel Sigler Jr. called four people for testimony, including Emma Grace’s parents.
“She was full of spunk,” said Sherry Leeman while describing Emma. “From the beginning, she was a smile embodied. I sat in amazement of her daily as I watched her play and learn. Her huge spirit was so beautiful and breathtaking.”
Sherry directed much of her statement toward Courtney, saying she took away Emma Grace’s potential.
“You betrayed her and her trust, when she looked up at you as you were killing her,” said Sherry. “Imagine not knowing how your daughter died. I’ve had a thousand possibilities go through my mind every day because we don’t know the truth. You never cared about our grieving. You took a video of her as she lay dying. I can’t even wrap my mind around that. How could you be so cruel? Why did your life mean more than hers at that very moment? To this day all you’ve done is deny killing my daughter. You killed her. You took away her potential. And for that, I want your potential ended. I don’t want you dead. I want you miserable and crying and missing your children.”
Sherry also reflected on how the incident has affected her husband, Nick; and six-year-old daughter, Addison.
“Our daughter tells us often that she wishes she would have been there to save her sister,” said Sherry. “Our little girl dreams of becoming a police officer because she wants to stop all the bad people like the mean lady who killed her sister. You changed the reality of a little girl. She’s now an only child in our house. You have taken a lifetime of memories and learning experiences from her. She’ll live the rest of her life being lonely. I don’t think you can be rehabilitated from something you don’t even acknowledge. You haven’t even given our family the peace of closure. Instead, you look out for yourself, always trying to better your chances of freedom. You are a lost cause, not able or worthy of forgiveness.”
Following the incident, Emma Grace’s heart, liver and kidneys were donated to three people.
“You took Emma Grace from the world but you couldn’t stop her from living,” Sherry said. “She lives.”
“We went from a household of four to three in the blink of an eye,” said Nick Leeman. “Emma Grace is gone because of one decision that changed countless lives. To watch a mother grieve is one of the toughest things someone can do. But to not know the exact truth of what happened makes it even worse. Sherry has been tortured by not knowing what exactly happened that day, and it makes it impossible to give it any finality. I have many memories of an amazing little girl and that’s all I have left.”
Rhonda Debaets, Emma Grace’s godmother, said her heart melted the moment she first saw Emma.
“Emma had a big personality and tons of spunk,” said Debaets. “She was the most cheerful baby ever. You couldn’t help but smile when you looked at her.”
Debaets also directed part of her statement to Courtney in court.
“You made a choice that changed my life and the lives of so many others,” said Debaets. “You chose to be dishonest and cowardly and chose to protect yourself rather than Emma. You took a piece of my heart and I’ll never get it back. And for that, I don’t forgive you.”
In his argument, Baber began by focusing on the notion that Courtney has not suffered due to the incident.
“I have personally seen attacks on Courtney saying that she kept postponing court matters to keep ‘living it up,'” said Baber.
Baber said Courtney is clinically depressed but also focused on her character and personality. He also noted that Courtney’s pre-sentence investigation report is more than 70 pages long due to letters of support.
“I have never seen so many people speak up about someone’s character, especially when someone has been found guilty,” said Baber.
Baber advocated for a sentence that would allow Courtney to “go home sooner rather than later” and also asked Judge Rentschler to consider home detention as part of Courtney’s sentence.
Sigler asked Judge Rentschler for a 30-year sentence for each count and requested that both counts be served consecutively.
“This was a devastating impact, especially the ripple effect it has through everyone’s lives,” said Sigler. “What we have here is somebody who has constructed an alternate reality in which to reside. That person is a danger to society. And we know what came last was the abject remorselessness of this defendant. Sometimes, people do hateful, stupid things that are out of character. In tragedy, there are no victors or celebrants. But out of this tragedy, there remains hope. There’s hope for Courtney Kincaid. She’ll put her head to a pillow every night with the knowledge that her children are safe, cared for and loved. She will have the peace in knowing they will continue on. This peace, this grace and faith are forever lost for the Leeman family.”
Courtney must also pay $11,447 in restitution to the Leeman family.
“You deprived Emma Grace of what would have been a long and wonderful life,” said Rentschler prior to sentencing Courtney. “You deprived her family of having an integral part of their family. I view this event as a loss of control, something that was out of character. This case is no longer a mystery.”