Mom maintains innocence before manslaughter sentence

·3 min read

May 18—MANKATO — Before she was sentenced to spend nearly four more years behind bars, a Mankato mother who pleaded guilty to manslaughter said she did not kill her son.

Chelsea Rae Olinger, 28, claims a man with whom she had a relationship killed her 17-month-old boy in February 2020.

"I apologize for not telling the truth from the start," Olinger said at her virtual sentencing hearing Tuesday in Blue Earth County District Court. "I apologize for allowing my son to be with somebody that I trusted and for allowing that person in our life. I'm sorry for everything that happened. I love my children and I love my family."

Olinger entered an Alford plea to manslaughter in March. An Alford plea does not admit guilt but acknowledges a conviction would be likely if the case went to trial. Second- and third-degree murder and felony assault charges were dismissed.

Blue Earth County District Judge Gregory Anderson on Tuesday issued the sentence that was proposed in a plea agreement.

She was sentenced to 90 months in prison with credit for more than 15 months already spent in the Blue Earth County Jail. In Minnesota the final third of prison sentences typically are served on parole. Olinger thus will be eligible for release in fewer than four years.

Court documents say Olinger brought her son, Jay'Lee Olinger Williams, to the Mayo Clinic Health System hospital in Mankato and he was not breathing and did not have a pulse. The toddler was transferred to a Rochester hospital and he had bleeding on his brain, rib fractures, broken vertebrae and other injuries. Jay'Lee died a few days later after tests showed he had no brain activity.

A medical examiner ruled the boy's death a homicide and listed the cause of death as "complications of multiple blunt force injuries."

Olinger initially told investigators her son fell down a flight of stairs. She later said his head hit the side of his crib while she was laying him down and she held her hand over his mouth trying to quiet him. She reportedly said she was her son's only caregiver that weekend and she was frustrated because he would not go to sleep.

Speaking at the sentencing hearing, Olinger's mother, Mary Wojciechowski, claimed her grandson "was violently attacked at the hands of someone his mama thought she could trust."

To her daughter she said, "It breaks my heart that you thought you should cover up for such a coward."

The judge and Assistant Blue Earth County Attorney Michael Hanson did not directly address those claims.

"You talk about the truth and the truth is a 17-month-old was murdered. And I don't think it gets worse than that," Anderson said.

Hanson called the boy's death a "senseless and tragic loss of life" and he called the 90-month sentence an "appropriate" resolution.

"I think it gives punishment and allows a chance for the defendant to come out of the Department of Corrections in the not too distant future and make something of her life."

Wojciechowski told the judge she was frustrated her daughter was offered no addiction or other mental health treatment services while in the Blue Earth County Jail and encouraged her daughter to "take full advantage" of such treatment offered in prison.

"I want you to focus on your mental health and addictions and what has caused you to make the choices you have in the past," Wojciechowski said. "I want you to come out a healthier, mentally stable person who believes in herself."