Lake Andes, SD
He was supposed to watch over six children; instead 21-year-old Taylor Cournoyer used meth while a two-year-old girl died in his Wagner home.
Cournoyer was sentenced to 13 years in prison on Thursday for possessing meth and using it in the house.
Cournoyer and his wife, 29-year-old Laurie Cournoyer, were arrested in July after the body of two-year-old RieLee Lovell was discovered in a bedroom closet.
An 11-year-old is also charged in connection with the death.
While Taylor Cournoyer does not face any charges directly related to Lovell's death, he did plead guilty to two meth charges back in October. At his sentencing on Thursday, prosecutors argued that his meth use led to an unsupervised home that ultimately resulted in the toddler's strangulation.
"It shows you the victims of drug use and unfortunately in this case, it is graphic and it is directly related to what happened in that house," South Dakota Assistant Attorney General Bill Golden argued in the Charles Mix County courthouse.
Taylor Cournoyer and his wife had taken in RieLee Lovell and her brother because their parents were going through a rough patch in their relationship. They were two of six children that were in the Cournoyer's care.
Golden said in court on Thursday that Cournoyer was not watching the children at all, instead he was using meth. Investigators believe Lovell's body lay dead in the closet for nearly 24 hours before it was found.
"Each of these children had to deal with this situation on their own; no help, no parent, no one. That's the offense here today. That's what this drug use did," Golden said.
Cournoyer's defense attorney Tom Deadrick argued for a lighter sentence saying that Cournoyer had a steady job and took in children that nobody else wanted. He says Cournoyer is a good citizen when he's not using drugs and wants to get help.
"He knows that he needs to go down a straight path that he hasn't followed yet. He knows the results of using the meth he's been charged with," Deadrick said.
Judge Steven Jensen agreed with prosecutors and sentenced Cournoyer to nearly all the prison time they asked for because he says the drug use led to the death of a toddler.
"It's not a case of abuse. It's not a case where Mr. Cournoyer was directly involved in the killing of R.L. but it's a clear and very disturbing case of neglect," Jensen said.
Taylor Cournoyer will be eligible for parole in just over four years.
His wife, Laurie Cournoyer, is charged with child abuse and not reporting the death of a child. She has pleaded not guilty to those charges and is waiting for another court hearing.
Details will not be released on the 11-year-old who was also charged in connection with the death because it is being handled in juvenile court.