A Roanoke woman has been ordered to serve a decade in prison for the 2016 death of her infant son.
That sentence came Friday, several months after Nicole Aurlieua Zimmerman, 27, was tried by a judge on charges of felony homicide, child abuse and cruelty to children.
Zimmerman received a 20-year sentence on the homicide charge, but that will be suspended after 10 years. She also got a 10-year suspended sentence on the abuse charge and saw the count of child cruelty dismissed by the judge.
Sentencing guidelines in her case recommended a punishment ranging from 13 years and nine months to 23 years.
Judge Chris Clemens said he was persuaded to go below those guidelines in part because defense evidence suggested Zimmerman has a lower mental capacity.
The results of an exam presented by the defense showed that Zimmerman has an IQ of about 76. That is slightly beneath the range for “below average,” which comes with an IQ of 80 to 89, Dr. Rebecca Loehrer testified Friday.
Loehrer, who previously conducted a clinical interview, a mental status examination, and an intelligence assessment on Zimmerman, also outlined why she felt Zimmerman’s decision-making skills and ability to reason would be lower than average.
As she has during previously hearings, and during her bench trial, Zimmerman remained largely silent and without expression.
In July 2016, her 6-month old son, Joshua, was hospitalized after a medical emergency. Doctors discovered that the 12-pound boy was suffering from a bilateral subdural hemorrhage — a brain bleed — and retinal hemorrhages in both eyes.
The boy remained hospitalized and died less than a month later.
Although Zimmerman has denied knowing how Joshua was injured, a medical examiner testified during her trial that the child died from blunt force that likely came from being shaken, because he did not have external injuries.
“This is forceful and this is violent and we know this because of the severity of Joshua’s injuries,” Roanoke assistant prosecutor Courtney Turner said Friday in an impassioned closing argument.
Turner had urged the judge to deliver a sentence well above the guidelines, with an active term of 30 years to serve.
In recorded police interviews, which were played during the trial, Zimmerman claimed Joshua had choked on milk and stopped breathing, something she said had happened twice in the past but was resolved with CPR.
“Nicole could not figure out what to do on that fateful day when Joshua stopped breathing,” defense attorney Lance Hale said at the sentencing. “She lacked the requisite cognitive ability.”
Call logs showed Zimmerman was on the phone with the boy’s father, Sterling Overstreet, for 12 minutes. He testified that she had been trying to resuscitate Joshua during that conversation, before she eventually called 911.
“Your actions and inactions, your failure to act, caused the loss of a human life,” Clemens told Zimmerman.
The judge ordered her to remain on probation indefinitely after her release and said she will never be allowed to have unsupervised contact with a child under the age of 13.
“You’re young and you’re going to get out and you’re going to be young still,” Clemens told her.
Zimmerman is the mother of three surviving children, one of whom was delivered in jail in March. Her older children have since been legally adopted and her youngest is in the care of social services.
Clemens further underscored that once Zimmerman is released, she is not to have contact with them or with any children they might have until after they are in their teens.