By Liz Shepherd
Editor’s note: This is the second of a two-part series about the Leeman family and Emma Grace’s legacy. Part One was published on Wednesday, Sept. 9, with a focus on organ donation and Emma Grace’s life.
PIERCETON — Sherry and Nick Leeman have waited a long time for their daughter’s justice.
It’s been two weeks since Courtney Kincaid, the babysitter who caused Emma Grace Leeman’s fatal brain injury, was sentenced to 30 years in prison for the 11-month-old’s death.
Kincaid was arrested 412 days after the incident. A five-day jury trial then occurred 425 days after her arrest. The Leeman family waited almost 2 1/2 years for Kincaid to be put behind bars and are happy with the sentence she received.
“I think people just need to understand that if we’re okay with it, then they need to be okay with it,” said Sherry. “There’s never going to be enough time. Thirty years doesn’t sound like a lot. But she will have missed out on every single milestone that all of her children have had, birthday parties, graduations, possible marriages. She will have missed out on all of that. I hope that her kids grow to understand that she’s not a good person. If she did it once, she’ll do it again.”
On Aug. 27, Kincaid was sentenced to 30 years in prison for aggravated battery and 30 years for neglect of a dependent resulting in death. Both Level 1 felony charges were ordered to be served concurrently, or at the same time. Following Kincaid’s arrest, the Leemans had frequent meetings with Whitley County Prosecutor DJ Sigler.
“We were always prepared and never blindsided by anything,” said Nick. “He said part of that was he gained trust with us that he could talk to us like that and we never overreacted.”
“He said we had a very unique understanding about the law and what he was allowed to do with it,” said Sherry. “I think, had she done the wrong thing and said something immediately and not told five different stories, she probably would have gotten 20 years. She took us through the whole trial and had zero defense. That’s her lawyers’ job to either investigate and find out who really did do it or provide some sort of medical proof that it could not have possibly happened in her care. And they didn’t provide one medical expert in defense of what our medical experts said.”
The Leemans described Sigler as smart, personable and honest.
“He spent two years working on this case because he saw something more,” said Sherry. “He saw that she needed justice. He saw that there was a huge act of violence and injustice done to our family and he pursued it. That man is passionate for justice.”
One aspect of the law Sherry would like to see changed is no bond being placed for a crime involving a child’s death.
“Had she (Kincaid) been in jail this whole time, we probably would have gotten the trial over a long time ago,” said Sherry. “But because she was free, I had to worry ‘Was I going to go to Walmart and see her? Was I going to go trick-or-treating and see her?’ What would I do? And she definitely was not watching out for me because I heard from everybody she was just living her life, just out and about. But here I’m watching over my shoulder for her and that should have been the opposite way. I didn’t want to lose my temper if I saw her without the benefit of bailiffs in the room.”
Sherry and Nick both testified during Kincaid’s jury trial but were not allowed to sit in the courtroom during the rest of the proceedings due to COVID-19 restrictions. Aside from the jury and judge, the only people allowed inside were the lawyers and Kincaid. After testimony, the Leemans were released from their subpoenas and watched the live-streamed jury trial nearby with family and friends.
“It was kind of neat because at least we could outburst,” said Sherry. “We gave DJ standing ovations many times. It sucked not being in the room, but at least it got done. When they showed the autopsy photos, the people at the watch party had to hear me scream in horror. I probably would have been able to maintain myself if I was in the courtroom, but it would not have been inaudible. I think there’s just a certain organic feel that the jury missed out on by having family from both sides there, because they would have heard the reactions, the gasps, the sniffles, the cries. But I think that’s what really solidifies the verdict is that it wasn’t because they heard mom crying that they gave back the verdict.”
In court proceedings, Kincaid’s lawyers also expressed concerns with her safety, saying Kincaid received death threats and had considered getting a restraining order against Sherry.
“I have not contacted her one day since the day we talked to her at the hospital, I’ve not spoken to her since,” said Sherry. “So if she feared for her life because of me, she was looking at the wrong people. She should have absolutely reported anybody who gave her death threats.”
After the trial, three of the jurors reached out to the Leemans with their thoughts on the case.
“All three of them said that they never believed a word she said,” said Sherry.
The Leemans were not surprised that Kincaid chose to not give any type of statement before the sentence.
“We were warned that she probably would not because she’s gonna want to appeal,” said Sherry. “If she says anything, even if she just says ‘I’m so sorry,’ that could have been used against her.”
If Kincaid tries to get out of prison earlier for good behavior, the Leemans will be there to give a statement.
“We weren’t given a 30-year sentence,” said Sherry. “We were given a lifetime. We will always have to wake up every day and grieve the loss of our child. I can only talk about it now without tears in my eyes because I’ve talked about it for two and a half years.”
With Kincaid finally behind bars, the Leemans are ready to focus more on advocating for organ donation and working with others to get Kirk’s Law enacted in every state.
Kirk’s Law is named for 19-month-old Kirk Coleman, an Elkhart toddler who died in 2014 while under the care of a daycare provider who had been previously convicted of child neglect. The law established a child abuse registry containing information about people convicted of child abuse crimes.
Even though Emma Grace is gone, she lives in more ways than one. She lives through Deacon and Aislin, two of Emma’s organ recipients. She lives through her family telling her story and advocating for changes in society. She lives on as a hero. Her journey didn’t end on April 12, 2018.