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Alta Vista man gets life in prison for son’s murder

By Bob Steenson,

As expected, an Alta Vista man convicted of killing his infant son has been sentenced to spend the rest of his life in prison.

Zachary Koehn, age 29, was found guilty of first degree murder and child endangerment in a Henry County trial that ended Nov. 6. The charges had been filed in Chickasaw County, but the trial was moved because of pretrial publicity.

Zachary Koehn
Zachary Koehn

District Court Judge Richard Stochl issued the sentence Tuesday in New Hampton. A conviction of first-degree murder in Iowa has a mandatory sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Before issuing the sentence, Stochl dismissed motions filed by Koehn’s attorneys for a new trial. They had argued that Koehn’s 4-month-old son, Sterling, died because of inaction, and that did not fit the legal definition of first-degree murder.

Denise Timmins, an Iowa assistant attorney general who helped prosecute the case, said Koehn “was aware of what was going on and he chose to do nothing.”

All the decisions Koehn made to care for himself and his 2-year-old daughter while denying care to his son make him guilty of murder, Timmins said.

Sterling Koehn was found dead in a baby swing in the Alta Vista Apartment of Koehn and the baby’s mother, Cheyanne Harris, in August 2017.

Prosecutors said evidence showed the baby’s diaper had not been changed in up to two weeks, and blamed a severe infection from diaper rash, along with malnutrition and dehydration, as the cause of the baby’s death.

Harris has also been charged with first degree murder and child endangerment. Her trial has been set to begin Jan. 29, and has also been moved out of Chickasaw County, this one to Le Mars in Plymouth County, according to court documents.

Harris’ attorney has filed a motion indicating they may use an intoxication defense, and Harris has said she smoked methamphetamine in the weeks before the baby’s death.