Letcher Circuit Judge Sam Wright followed the recommendation of a Letcher County Jury and sentenced a Sandlick man who was convicted last week of murdering a two-yearold boy in 2003 to life in prison.
During the brief sentencing hearing on Oct. 11, Wright told Jeff rey Allen, 46, that he believes the sentence is appropriate for the crime Allen committed.
Allen received credit for serving 1,283 days in jail. Wright ordered Allen to be held in the Letcher County Jail until he can be transferred to another facility.
A Letcher Circuit Court jury found last week that Allen murdered Dakota Yonts by punching the child so hard in the stomach it caused him to bleed to death.
During the first trial held in January 2006, a jury made up of Pike County residents found Allen guilty of murder and recommended a 50- year sentence.
Banks said the latest jury chose a stiff er sentence for Allen, making him less likely to get parole with the life sentence. Banks said in both recommendations Allen would be eligible to meet with a parole board in 20 years.
The jury had the option of two lesser charges, second-degree manslaughter or reckless homicide. Banks said Allen would have been sent straight to the parole board on either of those charges because, with the three-and-ahalf years Allen has already served in prison, he would have been eligible for parole. Reckless homicide carries between one and five years in prison and second-degree manslaughter carries a penalty of two years.
Allen was in prison until January 2009, a period of three years, when the Kentucky Supreme Court ordered the case retried after ruling the 2006 jury was improperly allowed to hear recordings of telephone calls made to E- 911 operators in Hazard after Dakota’s death was reported.
The Supreme Court was closely divided in its decision to order the new trial, with three of seven justices authoring a dissenting opinion which said that Allen’s conviction should stand because the admission of the 911 tapes was “harmless” error.
Dakota was the son of Andy and Delania Yonts of Mayking. He and his sister and two brothers — then aged three, five and nine months — were placed in foster care with Jeff rey Allen and his wife, Eugenia, in early January 2003 after the Yontses were charged with neglect for not keeping their home clean. The children were scheduled to be returned to their natural parents on April 1, 2003, just five days after Dakota was murdered.
Banks argued, successfully, that Jeff rey Allen murdered Dakota on the night of March 23, 2003, by beating the child and choking him after he became angry at being interrupted during an NCAA Tournament basketball game between the University of Kentucky and Wisconsin.
Dakota’s death was caused by a large tear in his mesentery, a fold of tissue, which connects the small intestines to the back and contains many veins and arteries.
Dr. Betty Spivack, a forensic pediatrician in the state medical examiner’s office in Louisville at the time of the murder, said in addition to the 27 bruises on Dakota’s abdomen, which Spivack said were knuckles marks from a fist, Spivack described bruising around Dakota’s neck which appeared to be a handprint of a large man. The accused five-year-old boy’s handprint was traced and was smaller than Spivack’s hand. She said she placed her hand to the handprint and her print was much smaller than the print around Dakota’s neck.