Prosecutors say phone records indicate about 24 hours passed before Samantha Klein sought medical help for the injuries she caused to Alaya Foster, and that delay ultimately caused the death of the 3-month-old infant under her care.
Niagara County Court Judge Matthew J. Murphy III cited that roughly 24-hour delay Tuesday as one reason for sentencing Klein, of Niagara Falls, to 25 years in state prison for Foster's death.
Klein, 31, began babysitting Alaya about 9 p.m. Feb. 21 at her North Avenue home. District Attorney Caroline Wojtaszek said Klein watched Alaya previously and was babysitting several other children at the time, despite having a history of selling drugs and robbery. At the time, she was facing pending charges for selling fentanyl to a police officer and an attempted armed robbery in the Falls last Christmas Eve.
Assistant District Attorney Holly Sloma said investigators believe Klein caused blunt force injuries to Alaya within the first few hours. In the early morning hours of Feb. 22, Sloma said, Klein used her cell phone to search on Google for the symptoms of seizures and a child not being conscious. Later that day, Klein reportedly had contact with Alaya's mother, but she did not say anything was wrong.
Klein at last called 911 early Feb. 23. Alaya was hospitalized that morning with brain bleeding, a fractured skull and spinal cord damage. She died shortly after from her injuries.
"This baby was clearly in distress, and this defendant knew it," Sloma said of Klein.
Sloma and Wojtaszek declined to "surmise" how Klein caused the injuries to Alaya. Neither prosecutors nor her defense attorney have offered a motive for why she attacked Alaya.
Murphy told Klein he reviewed hundreds of records in search of a motive, but found no "valid reason for why you did what you did."
"Everyone wants to know, why did she hurt her and why didn't she seek help," Sloma said.
"She did this to a defenseless baby, and she did nothing — nothing — to seek help," Sloma added.
Alaya's grandmother, Crystal Dusen, also said the family has struggled to understand why Klein attacked a baby.
"We still wonder why you did what you did to Alaya," Dusen said.
"She never got to meet her father," Dusen added. "She never got to walk or talk. ... She'll never get to smile or laugh, and her mother will never see her again."
Defense attorney Brian Hutchison said Klein "did not appreciate the seriousness" of Alaya's injuries.
"I knew I should have gotten help sooner," Klein said. "I'm truly sorry."
"I didn't know what was wrong with her," she added.
Klein, who initially maintained her innocence, pleaded guilty Oct. 15 to first-degree manslaughter for causing Alaya's death. She also pleaded guilty that day to attempted first-degree robbery for the Christmas Eve incident and fifth-degree criminal possession of a controlled substance for opioid sales.
Murphy handed Klein the maximum sentence of 25 years in state prison for the first-degree manslaughter charge. He also sentenced her to seven years in prison for the robbery charge and 30 months for the drug charge, to be served concurrently. As a result, she is facing a 25-year prison sentence and five years of post-release supervision.
Dusen said the family was "happy" with Klein's sentence. "It's never going to bring her back. ... It's still not enough, but I'm glad with the results of the case," she said outside the courtroom.
Wojtaszek said she had received more calls from individuals "seeking justice" for Alaya's death than in most other cases.
"This was a very emotional case, for the family obviously, but this became a very emotional case for the community of Niagara Falls," Wojtaszek said. "Alaya got into the hearts of everyone in the community."
Wojtaszek acknowledged her office received criticism over the pace of its investigation, but said prosecutors and investigators became involved "from the moment this took place."
"These cases are very involved and the investigation is very complex," Wojtaszek said.
"There is not enough time but, under the circumstances, we're satisfied with the results," she added.