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Elwood man gets life for killing fiancee’s 18-month-old daughter

Lee Ponshe

Lee Ponshe

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Updated: March 4, 2013 6:19PM

An Elwood man was sentenced to life in prison Monday morning for the death of his fiancee’s toddler.

A Will County jury convicted Lee K. Ponshe, 29, in December of the April 2009 killing Halli R. Burton, the 18-month-old daughter of Ponshe’s former fiancee, Jessi Evans, of Downstate White Hall. Evans met Ponshe on the Internet. Evans and her daughter had moved into Ponshe’s Elwood home days before the girl’s death.

“How dare you put your hands on my baby girl,” Evans said in court Monday, reading from a victim impact statement. “I have nightmares just thinking about all of her injuries and the way they were performed.”

Prosecutors said Ponshe hit the toddler in the head and back after she woke up crying in the early morning of April 15, 2009, causing injuries that ultimately killed her.

Ponshe initially told police he didn’t touch Burton, but he later admitted that he hit her twice in the head, prosecutors said. Autopsy photos showed more than 20 bruises covering the toddler’s scalp.

“To this day, Lee, I still wonder why you just didn’t come and get me,” Evans said. “All you had to do was wake me up. You didn’t even try.”

The girl’s father, Josh Burton, said he has struggled to live a normal life since Halli died.

“This is something you can’t even begin to imagine,” Burton said. “It breaks a person into so many pieces that you don’t even know if it’s worth trying to piece yourself back together.”

Ponshe’s sentencing — his conviction requires a mandatory life prison sentence because of the victim’s age, authorities said— was originally scheduled for Feb. 25. One of Ponshe’s attorneys, Gerald Kielian, was out of town that day. Ira Goldstein, Ponshe’s other attorney, said he could handle the hearing as well as arguments on Ponshe’s motion for a new trial, but Ponshe insisted on having Kielian present.

Judge Daniel Rozak agreed to reschedule the hearing for Monday morning.

Prosecutors played recordings of phone calls Ponshe made from the county jail to his family members the afternoon of Feb. 25 in which he laughs because Burton’s family members would have to drive back from Downstate again the following week.

In court, Ponshe chuckled again when he heard parts of the recordings, which Rozak mentioned when he sentenced Ponshe to natural life in prison.

Last week, Ponshe’s mother, Diane Ponshe, said everyone in the Ponshe family loved Halli.

“My son loved her. It’s sad all the way around. It’s sad for their family to lose their little girl,” Diane said.

She wrote a letter to Lee that mentioned his own 8-year-old son, who she and Ponshe’s father now care for. The child’s mother has passed away.

“Now a little boy must live without his mother and father . . . a mother who is in heaven and a father who has been wrongfully accused of a crime he did not commit,” she wrote.

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