A Vincennes man pleaded guilty on Monday to strangling to death his 5-year-old son two years ago.
Robert J. Baldwin, who was arrested in April 2017, appeared in Knox County Circuit Court — clad in a gray jumpsuit, shackled at the waist and wearing a bullet proof vest — to officially change his original not-guilty plea to one of guilty but “mentally ill.”
As a result, county prosecutor Dirk Carnahan will no longer pursue a sentence of life without parole.
Judge Sherry Gregg-Gilmore and Baldwin's legal counsel, Dale Webster, each asked Baldwin a series of questions about whether he fully understood his decision to now plead guilty and forego a trial by jury.
Baldwin, with the use of a portable hearing-aid, answered either “yes” or “no” to questions regarding his mental health.
Per the testimony offered Monday, Baldwin has been treated on and off for mental illness since the age of 12 or 13. He said he was suffering from that same mental illness at the time of the murder, although neither Baldwin nor Webster specified the kind of mental illness.
Baldwin, now 55, killed his son, Gabriel, in the home they shared at 1323 Bayou St. on April 4, 2017.
He has been held at the Knox County Jail since being arrested on initial charges of murder, strangulation and domestic battery two years ago.
Baldwin's sentence will now be up to Gregg-Gilmore, and while being deemed mentally ill doesn't lessen the sentence, it could change how he would be housed within the Indiana Department of Corrections.
A conviction of murder carries with it 45-65 years in prison as well as fines up to $10,000.
Gregg-Gilmore took Baldwin's plea change under advisement. They will convene again on Aug. 23 for her to announce her decision on whether or not to accept the plea and, if so, proceed with sentencing.
Baldwin told local detectives after his arrest that he had planned to kill his son and had been merely waiting for the opportunity to do so. The day the alleged crime was committed, his other children, daughters ranging in ages from 3 to 12, weren't home.
Baldwin allegedly told police he attempted to kill Gabriel by smothering him with a pillow. He then strangled him with a USB chord, and finally sat on him until the child quit breathing.
He then reportedly called 911 himself and told dispatchers he'd killed the young boy.