By John Tretbar of Missourinet affiliate KEFQ Radio
An emotional hearing ended with an audible, collective gasp of relief as Circuit Judge Daniel Kellogg sentenced Sebastian Dowell to life in prison for the Oct. 2016 murder of Kaytlin Root.
“It’s the only appropriate sentence,” Kellogg said.
Kaytlin’s mom Jamie Jaramillo agreed. “I’m ecstatic,” Jaramillo said. “I got the verdict I wanted. I will be at every parole hearing, every hearing he ever has. His family, they show no remorse, they don’t know what pain is. They didn’t lose a child. They get to go to prison and see their child. I don’t.”
Root was found naked, strangled and stabbed, in a remote area of the Krug Park trails on October 16, 2016. Dowell and co-defendant Amanda Bennett were charged with second-degree murder after an investigation that Prosecuting Attorney Dwight Scroggins said was a combination of great luck and great police work.
Both suspects have pleaded guilty. Bennett is scheduled for sentencing next week.
During Dowell’s two-hour sentencing hearing Thursday, Scroggins laid out details of the crime that had not been publicly revealed before. One of the lead detectives, Frank Till of the St. Joseph Police Department, described how they linked Dowell and Bennett to the crime.
They found part of Root’s damaged cell phone, and later, after a much wider and more exhaustive search, they found the rest of it. Within the phone’s memory they were able to piece together a Facebook Messenger dialogue with Root’s killer. They also found a cell phone photograph of Dowell at a convenience store where they stopped briefly, shortly before the murder. From the store’s surveillance video and that cell phone photo, and the Facebook dialogue, they were able to identify the two suspects.
Scroggins says Dowell will be eligible for consideration for parole in a little over 25 years. This fact figured prominently in his decision to charge the teenager with second degree murder. He told the judge that given the facts, first-degree murder was appropriate. But Scroggins says that if Dowell had been charged and convicted of first-degree murder, given his age, and some recent Supreme Court rulings, the only possible sentence would be life without parole. He says the more appropriate way to ensure a just outcome for an 18-year-old murderer is to let the parole board consider his case in 25 years.
“Despite the awful tragedy of what occurred in this case, I think the more appropriate way in which to actually have a just outcome, is to let somebody take a look at this person 25 years down the road and see who he is then,” Scroggins said. “I think that decision, because of the gravity of it, is better made 25 years down the road, than if it is made today, in the light and the emotion of the crime having just happened.”
Scroggins said the defendants didn’t really care who they killed that night. They sent out Facebook messages to four or five people, and only Root responded. They asked if she wanted to hang out, and she said yes. “That’s very unusual in a homicide,” Scroggins said. “There’s usually some motive connection.”
Scroggins says that’s more heinous than a homicide with a motive, and an intended victim, and it deserved a harsher sentence.
He also said he doesn’t pay a lot of attention to the defendants’ claims that this was part of some ritual sacrifice. The defendants don’t agree on whose idea it was, or which one believed in what was described as “dark religion.”
In an interview, Dowell told Detective Till he had “dabbled in” that sort of thing since he was a child. But he said the killing was Bennett’s idea. Scroggins also said it doesn’t really matter which of the co-defendants strangled Root. Each one blames the other in interviews.
Till said after strangling Root, the pair took off some of her clothes, cut off the rest, and then stabbed her and slashed her throat. Scroggins said it doesn’t matter who did what, because they had the knives, they had the gloves, and they had the plan. And because she was the one who responded to the Facebook messages, they had Root.
Arranging the meeting at random, via social media, was frightening for Jaramillo. “It is scary to know that she was number four or five, and the rest didn’t comment, but she did,” Jaramillo said.
“But she loved everybody. And social media, it does scare me, because who’s to say there isn’t somebody that says ‘hey you want to hang out?’ and then the next thing you know…”
Jaramillo trailed off, not wanting to describe what happened next to her daughter. She was quick to change the subject.
“I’ve told everybody from day one, I’m thankful that somebody found her, that I got to see her, I got to say goodbye. It might have been her laying in a casket, but I got to see my baby.”
“And they stole my best friend.”