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Judge calls murder of child 'barbaric'

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- A judge recommended more than 15 years in prison -- double the usual sentence -- for a woman who was convicted of murdering her 3-year-old adopted son 22 years ago.

Lois Jurgens, 61, was convicted of third-degree murder of her adopted son Dennis in the first phase of her trial a week ago and the jury, after deliberating five hours, rejected her insanity plea in the second phase Friday.

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In recommending a sentence Friday, Ramsey County District Judge David Marsden said, 'substantial evidence that inflictions of cruelty were of barbaric proportions and the vulerability of the 3 -year-old child would justify doubling the usual sentence, and I would ask for over 15 years.'

Under Minnesota law, Jurgen's sentence will be set by the state corrections commissioner.

The boy's natural mother, Jerry Sherwood, who as an unwed teenager gave the child up for adoption 25 years ago, burst into tears as the jury delivered its verdict Friday.

Questions Sherwood raised about her son's death prompted medical examiner Michael McGee to reopen the case last year and to finally rule the boy's death a homicide.

Dennis died in 1965 of an infection from a perforated bowel that medical experts say resulted from a blow, possibly from a foot or fist.

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'Back in 1965 nobody believed child abuse could happen in a white suburban, middle-class family,' Ramsey County prosecutor Tom Foley said after the trial. 'The whole trial is a reflection of how the laws have progressed in bringing child abuse to light as a terrrible problem.'

In closing arguments Friday, prosecutor Melinda Elledge said Jurgens was 'an evil woman' who understood what she was doing when she tortured and beat her adopted son.

But Defense lawyer Doug Thomson called his client a 'stainless steel paranoid schizophrenic' whose history of hospitalization and conduct proved her insanity.

Under Minnesota law, trials of criminal defendants who plead insanity are divided into two parts -- the first to determine their guilt or innocence based on the facts of the case and the second to establish their sanity.

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