Man pleads guilty to murdering young step-son, avoids death penalty

Local News

SIOUX FALLS, SD (KELO) — The man charged with killing his young step-son in Dell Rapids more than two years ago will be heading to prison for the rest of his life.  Keith Cornett avoided a death penalty trial Friday by pleading guilty to second-degree murder.

Prosecutors say Keith Cornett was so drunk he doesn’t remember what happened the day he was left alone with his step-son at a home in Dell Rapids.  The little boy’s body was found on a couch with severe bruises on his head and body.  Prosecutors charged Cornett with first-degree murder.  But his guilty plea means the death penalty is now off the table.

Even though Keith Cornett isn’t admitting to the facts surrounding the death of his infant step-son, he acknowledged in court Friday there’s enough evidence in the case to convince a jury to convict him of murder.  

“By the evidence, it was very clear that he was the only individual that could have caused those injuries and was the one that did cause those injuries and ultimately did commit murder in this case,” Minnehaha County State’s Attorney Aaron McGowan said.

State’s Attorney Aaron McGowan said he didn’t want to put the little boy’s family through the trauma of a death penalty trial, so they agreed to the plea deal.  The boy’s mother wasn’t in court Friday, but two years ago, she told KELOLAND News she didn’t want prosecutors to pursue the death penalty against Cornett.

“I want him to be suffering from the consequences that I have to go through.  I want him to live day in and day out with the pain,” Kristine Cornett said on May 11, 2017.

An autopsy found that the little boy died of blunt-force trauma with severe fractures to his head.

“And having attended the autopsy, I can tell you those were some of the worst injuries I’ve seen at a child autopsy,”  McGowan said.

Cornett will be sentenced later this month, but that hearing will only be a formality since second-degree murder carries an automatic life-sentence, without the possibility of parole.

McGowan says Cornett had been drinking straight whisky the day of the murder and a breath test showed he still had a blood-alcohol level of .17 several hours later.

Cornett’s attorney turned-down our request for a comment on the plea.

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