The former San Diego daycare provider charged with shaking and killing an 11-month-old baby in his care was sentenced to 29 years and eight months behind bars Thursday.
James Nemeth argued against the charges in court this week, trying to convince San Diego County Superior Court Judge Joan Weber to change his plea from guilty to not-guilty. The judge denied the request after a day and a half of witness testimony that included audio from jail phone calls between Nemeth and his wife.
In addition to the time behind bars, Judge Weber ordered Nemeth to pay more than $5,000 in restitution to the family of baby Louis “Lou” Oliver.
In 2014, Nemeth was arrested and charged with murder and assault in the May 2012 death of Lou Oliver. At that time Nemeth entered a plea of not guilty.
Nemeth changed that plea to guilty in January, admitting to a total of seven charges, according to the plea deal. The plea included him admitting he abused two of his own sons.
This week Nemeth represented himself in the change of plea and sentencing hearings arguing he did not fully understand the charges he was admitting to and that he was not properly advised by his former attorney.
Watch below to see Nemeth plead his case before Judge Weber.
For hours Wednesday, the judge, prosecutor, and family members of Lou Oliver and Nemeth listened to testimony from witnesses.
Before the change of plea hearing began Nemeth said he was “shooting blind” and asked the judge to appoint him new counsel. Judge Weber denied the request saying the court is not obligated to keep appointing new counsel.
Nemeth called several witnesses to the stand including his brother, wife and sister. He asked them about what his former attorney told them the plea would include, specifically if the plea would allow him family visits, enrollment in possible programs to reduce his sentence and an ability to appeal if new evidence was found.
The prosecutor called Nemeth’s former attorney to the witness stand and played two jail phone calls between Nemeth and his wife.
Judge Weber said these two calls critical evidence in the request for a change of plea. The calls were the first two made immediately after Nemeth agreed to the plea deal, according to the prosecutor.
During the calls, each about 30 minutes in length, Nemeth and his wife discussed the following:
- The terms of the plea deal and why Nemeth was admitting to the charges. He tells his wife there are a lot of people in jail that innocent and that he had no choice after the extra charges were added.
- Nemeth talks about his former attorney and said letters he sent were ignored. (The former attorney told the court he does not send sensitive information to inmates through the mail.)
- The different prison options and visitation options that may be available to Nemeth.
- Nemeth said, “I can’t believe I got four years for a pink bellly.” A reference to the charges against him for punching his son in the stomach, according to prosecutors.
- How Nemeth’s family reacted to finding out he pleaded guilty, including the fact that his grandfather, who according to Nemeth can barely walk was there to show his support.
- How much the two of them loved one another and were planning on getting married.
- Nemeth instructed his wife to gather all of his evidence and said reviewing the case files after he serves his time behind bars would “help him heal.”
After hearing the phone calls and listening to witnesses for a day and a half, Judge Weber immediately ruled on Nemeth’s request to change his plea. She denied the request and said the phone calls show Nemeth knowingly entered into the plea. The Judge also said his former attorney properly advised Nemeth and there is no evidence of him coercing Nemeth to take the plea.
Nemeth’s sentencing began with eight people, family and friends of Lou Oiliver, sharing their feelings of anger toward Nemeth and loss of an 11-month-old.
Watch below to hear some of the comments made by family and friends.
Two months after Lou Oliver passed, the Department of Social Services, the agency responsible for licensing and regulating home daycares, suspended Nemeth's daycare license.
The agency determined there was "an immediate risk to the children in care at the Nemeth James family childcare."
Last year, NBC 7 Investigates reported that before Lou Oliver’s death, Nemeth had a lengthy history of serious violations, including allegations that he was physically rough with his own child.
NBC 7 Investigates also found it was very difficult for parents to review files on what happens to their children while in the care of individual day cares. After the stories aired,state lawmakers changed the way parents can access information about daycares in California, making the information available online, instead of only in person by appointment.
Click here to see the complete investigation.