A judge pointed to a "perfect storm" of circumstances Monday when he spared prison for a Minneapolis home day-care operator who attempted to hang a toddler in the basement before fleeing in her minivan and leaving a trail of mayhem, seriously injuring two people.
Nataliia Karia, 43, abandoned a possible insanity defense and pleaded guilty in February to attempted murder in connection with the hanging of the boy from a noose in November 2016 inside the home in the 2700 block of Humboldt Avenue S.
The 16-month-old survived after a parent dropping off a child intervened and took the noose from the boy's neck.
Karia also admitted before Hennepin County District Judge Jay Quam to third-degree assault for striking a pedestrian, another driver and a bicyclist as she fled in her minivan. She was snatched from a Minneapolis freeway overpass, ready to jump, and taken into custody.
After a two-hour hearing, Karia received a 10-year probationary sentence, with credit for the 20 months in jail. She also must follow court-ordered mental health treatment and electronic home monitoring for at least two months. She will live with her adult son but cannot have unsupervised contact with her daughters or other minors. Karia's three other children are ages 2, 7 and 10, and child protection proceedings continue over her fitness as a parent.
In deciding against prison time, Quam agreed with the assessment by doctors that Karia was "a low risk" to reoffend. He called her actions "the perfect storm of factors unlikely to ever be repeated." He said Karia's "was one of the hardest cases I've ever had. ... There are no easy answers here."
Defense attorney Brockton Hunter expressed relief on behalf of his client.
"We came in here with our hearts in our throats," he said, adding that Karia will leave jail no later than Tuesday.
Karia, who fought back tears and low sobs throughout the hearing, read a statement in Russian spelling out in great detail the abuses she alleges her husband inflicted upon her and her children since they arrived to the United States from Ukraine in 2006. She said he hit and threatened to kill her, drove the family into financial ruin, forced her to work despite her psychological struggles and prevented her from getting medical attention.
"I don't want to push this terrible crime onto my husband. I just want to explain what happened," she said, her words interpreted to English. "Your Honor, my children need me … Give me a chance to resume a normal life."
Upon learning she was pregnant with another daughter, she told the court, her husband punched her in the stomach for not giving him a son.
She closed with a promise to follow probation and added, "I thank God nobody died."
Police said a week after the boy was freed from the noose that the child was doing fine physically following hospitalization.
Prosecutor Christina Warren pushed for a term of nearly 13 years, raising doubts that Karia could be properly supervised outside of prison and receive the care she needs to restore her mental health.
Warren wrote in a court filing that "instead of being the person most able and willing to protect [the boy] from harm, she ... left him hanging by a noose around his neck in her basement."
The defense argued for no further incarceration. It pointed to several ways that Karia has already been punished including her lengthy jail time, loss of her child-care career, parental time with her son and daughters, and a monetary loss topping $100,000.
Her attorneys also pointed to the "scarlet letter of disgrace in the community she's loved and served since immigrating to the United States [and] the shame she will live with for the rest of her life for doing something so out of character that harmed many people."
No victim-impact statements were presented at Tuesday's sentencing.
'Done something bad'
Karia's young adult son from a previous marriage, Denys, wrote a letter to the court alleging that his father was abusive to Karia over many years since he met her and married her through a Ukrainian agency. He wrote that he would "menace" her with a gun and commit other acts of physical abuse.
Denys wrote that he made audio recordings of the abusive and sometimes violent encounters with his father. He turned over four of those recordings to the court on behalf of his mother.
On the morning of Nov. 18, 2016, Joseph Sabir was dropping off his 3-year-old daughter at the home when Karia told him she had "done something bad," the charges against her read.
Sabir said he heard a baby crying in the basement and ran downstairs to find the child hanging from a noose made of girls' tights tied to an overhead pipe. He grabbed the child and ran out of the house.
Karia then fled in her minivan, rear-ending a car on W. 28th Street at Grand Avenue, shoving that vehicle into another car.
When the driver of the first car, 37-year-old Salvador Lema, got out to check the damage, Karia pulled into traffic and dragged him for 10 blocks. At W. 28th and Park Avenue, her van struck 29-year-old bicyclist Jacob Carrigan. He suffered broken bones and had to have a rod surgically implanted in his leg to spare him amputation.
Karia later struck another car driven by a pregnant woman before pulling over near the Park Avenue overpass above Interstate 94, where she threatened to jump. Passersby held her down until police could take her into custody.