Austin L. Haaff, the Owensboro man who pleaded guilty to killing his almost 3-month-old son in 2018, was sentenced to 28 years in prison on Friday in Daviess Circuit Court.
Haaff, 23, was charged with murder after he confessed to causing the death of Collin Lee Haaff on April 20, 2018, at Haaff's home in the 2600 block of Wimsatt Court. Haaff pleaded guilty in October in exchange for the 28-year sentence.
Haaff must serve at least 20 years in prison before he becomes eligible for parole.
"At this point in my career, this has been the most emotionally impacting case I've worked as a law enforcement officer," said Detective Jared Spurrier, the Daviess County Sheriff's Department investigator who handled the case.
Law enforcement officers were called to the home by Haaff, who initially told investigators he had left the infant alone for a few moments and had returned to find him unresponsive.
Sheriff's deputies Kelsey Skaggs and Tyler Free attempted to administer life-saving techniques on the infant until an ambulance crew arrived. After talking with Haaff, the deputies called for detectives to investigate.
"Their quick response and their ability to pick up on the fact that things weren't adding up is what got investigations involved in the case," Spurrier said.
The infant was transferred to Norton Children's Hospital in Louisville, where members of the pediatric forensics unit found the infant's death was caused by abusive head trauma. Doctors found the infant had suffered a brain hemorrhage, spinal and retinal injuries and broken ribs. The infant died on April 23.
When the injuries were sustained, "it immediately incapacitated the child," Spurrier said.
Haaff was the only person at home with the child when the injuries occurred, Spurrier said.
"Initially he gave some justifications for the injuries," he said. "He talked about how he may have accidentally caused the injuries while performing CPR."
Haaff also said the baby "slipped out of his hands," Spurrier said.
"Then, he actually stopped and admitted to shaking the baby," Spurrier said. "He then conducted a demonstration of his actions.
"His admission and the demonstration were very consistent" with the injuries the infant has sustained, Spurrier said.
"He said the baby was crying and fussing, he got pissed off and it was his fault for doing this," Spurrier said.
Deputy Commonwealth's Attorney Mike Van Meter said the infant's family members were consulted and agreed with the plea agreement.
"It was a significant sentence, but it was commensurate with the (nature) of the offense he committed," Van Meter said. "We were prepared to go to trial."
Haaff's defense attorney, Heather Blackburn, said, "We had set (the case) for trial, but there had always been an eye for a resolution" through a plea agreement.
"I can tell you Mr. Haaff always felt very bad about what happened and wanted to take responsibility," Blackburn said. Also, Haaff preferred to plead guilty "rather than put his family through a jury trial."
"He was willing to accept responsibility and accept the punishment that came along with it," Blackburn said.
Spurrier said the staff at Norton Children's Hospital provided crucial evidence to investigators.
"We relied on the medical staff to tell us about the injuries they found, and how they felt the baby obtained those injuries, which allowed us to hone in on who the suspect was," Spurrier said.
James Mayse, 270-691-7303, firstname.lastname@example.org, Twitter: @JamesMayse