Florissant man sentenced to 22 years for killing 3-year-old boy

2012-11-08T12:30:00Z 2013-05-01T12:06:07Z Florissant man sentenced to 22 years for killing 3-year-old boyBy Kim Bell kbell@post-dispatch.com 314-340-8115 stltoday.com

CLAYTON   •  A Florissant man on Thursday was sentenced to 22 years in prison for killing his girlfriend's 3-year-old son in 2011. 

Zachary Thomas Cook, 24, of the 2400 block of Blue Heron Drive, was in a rage May 5, 2011, when he shook the boy and threw him to the floor, according to authorities.

The boy, Austin Vietor, was taken to St. Louis Children's Hospital. He died on May 8, after being taken off life support.

Cook pleaded guilty in September to charges of second-degree murder and abuse of a child resulting in death. Cook's lawyer said Cook had a "short fuse" and no parenting skills.

On Thursday morning, St. Louis County Circuit Judge Tom W. DePriest Jr. sentenced Cook to 22 years on each count. The sentences will run at the same time.

Assistant prosecutor John Quarenghi handled the case for St. Louis County Robert P. McCulloch's office. Quarenghi asked for at least 25 years. Cook made a blind plea, which meant no agreement was made with prosecutors about what the sentence would be.

Cook's attorney, David J. Ferman, said Cook had a job repairing appliances. He had been home watching Austin while the boy's mother, Cook's girlfriend, was out. Cook was downstairs, doing laundry, and Austin kept running outside, into a busy street, Ferman said.

He brought Austin back inside, shook him and "tossed him onto a time-out couch" a few feet away, Ferman said. Police say Austin was thrown across the room and onto the floor.

"He lost it," Ferman said. "He was very nervous and upset (Austin) would be hit by a car. And instead, he disciplined him to death, in his own house, by his own hand."

At the sentencing, a letter was read from Austin's maternal grandmother, who said Austin was running across the street because he was afraid of Cook.

Ferman denied that, saying the boy loved Cook and ran outside because he thought it was funny and would get his attention.

Initially, police said there was a paternity dispute and it was unclear if Cook was the boy's father. Police now say Cook wasn't Austin's father.

Ferman said Cook considered himself the boy's dad and the boy looked like him. The boy's obituary lists another man as the father; Austin's mother could not be reached for comment Thursday.


EDITOR'S NOTE: An earlier version of this story gave incorrect information about the sentence sought by the prosecution. This version has been updated.

Kim Bell covers breaking news for www.STLtoday.com and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

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