A major chapter in the story of four-year-old Autumn Horak closed yesterday when both her mother, 22-year-old Christina Marie Collado, and her mother’s boyfriend, 23-year-old Jerome A. Millen, were sentenced after entering guilty pleas in August of this year.
Autumn Marie Horak died on February 28, 2020 at her family’s home at 420 Montana Avenue in South Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where she lived with her mother, her baby brother, who I’ll call G.H., her mother’s boyfriend, Jerome, and some of his family members.
When police arrived at the home that morning, they found Autumn unresponsive, covered in bruises on her head, sternum, forearm, and both sides of her jaw and suffering from a large burn on her knee and a human bite mark on her thigh. Christina initially tried to explain away her daughter’s injuries as accidental but ultimately confessed that she knew her boyfriend of about eight months had been abusing her daughter, telling them she had done nothing after watching Jerome “slam [Autumn’s] head into the floor twice and then held a pillow over her face, smothering her.”
Jerome had fled the residence prior to the arrival of police, but he was quickly captured at a friend’s home. He was charged with physical abuse of a child resulting in death. Christina was charged with chronic neglect of a child resulting in death. Both have been held in Milwaukee County Jail since their February arrests.
At the time of her arrest, Christina was about halfway through her pregnancy with Jerome’s child. There has been no indication if or when she gave birth, but I would imagine she had to have by now, or she’d be about four months overdue and roughly the size of a hippopotamus.
Autumn’s baby brother, who was a little over a year old when she died, was placed into foster care.
Both initially pleaded not guilty to their charges. In August, Christina changed her plea to guilty and was scheduled for sentencing on September 24, while Jerome’s jury trial was scheduled to begin on September 14. Before he could get there, however, he accepted a plea agreement, pleading guilty to one count of first degree reckless homicide, a class B felony, and two counts of physical abuse of a child causing intentional harm, a class H felony, in exchange for the state dropping his class A felony charge of physical abuse of a child resulting in death.
On Friday, October 9, both Jerome and Christina attended their sentencing hearings in branch 10 of Milwaukee County Circuit Court before Judge Michelle Havas.
Jerome’s hearing began at 2:00 PM. He appeared with his attorney Matt Ricci, and prosecutor Matthew Torbenson represented the State of Wisconsin. During the hearing, Judge Havas sentenced Jerome Millen on count 1 (first degree reckless homicide) to a maximum term in Wisconsin State Prison of 40 years with credit for 134 days served. On that count, the term of initial confinement would be 30 years, and the period of extended supervision, which is similar to parole, would be 10 years. On count 2 (physical abuse of a child causing intentional harm), the judge handed down a sentence of three years, with the term of initial confinement and the term of extended supervision each set at one year and six months. On count 3 (physical abuse of a child causing intentional harm), Jerome was sentenced to two years initial confinement and two years extended supervision.
Autumn’s biological father, Kyle Horak, gave an emotional statement at the hearing, saying, “They ruined more than one life; they ruined so many people’s who she was their first grandchild, first niece, first nephew, so many people confused, so many kids her age, and I just don’t feel like 45 years is enough.”
Because the three sentences were ordered to run consecutively, based on my calculations and with time served subtracted, Jerome will serve a remaining maximum prison sentence of 33 years and 47 days, which means the latest date he could be released from prison would be November 27, 2053. He will then remain on extended supervision until May 26, 2067 at the latest.
Wisconsin is surprisingly inflexible when it comes to prison terms. It is one of the only states without a “good time” program that would allow an inmate to be released early based on credit earned due to good behavior. Because of this Jerome may very well serve the entirety of his incarceration time behind bars in Wisconsin State Prison, as well he should.
Christina’s sentencing hearing, which she attended with her attorney, Lori Ann Kuehn, began at 3:30 PM. For her guilty plea to a single charge of chronic neglect of a child with the consequence of death, Christina was sentenced to a maximum term of ten years with credit for 224 days served; the term of initial confinement and the term of extended supervision were each set at five years.
If my calculations are correct, Christina should remain behind bars until around March 1, 2025, and her extended supervision term should end around the same time in 2030.
Christina, who was ordered to have no future contact with Jerome Millen, was additionally ordered to undergo a mental health evaluation, to comply with the recommended treatment, and to participate in individual therapy.
Both Jerome and Christina were ordered to provide DNA samples and to pay mandatory DNA surcharges, although the court waived all other court costs, fees, and surcharges due to the defendants’ inability to pay them.
After the sentencing, Autumn’s Nana, Nicole, who is married to Christina’s father, Jason, posted on Facebook, “Long day full of justice…well never forget you my favorite red headed princess, I promise to keep your memory alive… I know you were there with dad, papa, and myself in that courtroom and keeping us together… here’s to justice baby… jerome is now serving a total of 40 years and christina received 5 in and 5 out. AS THE JUDGE SAID, JUSTICE FOR AUTUMN ON THIS BEAUTIFUL AUTUMN DAY”
Autumn’s father, Kyle, who is also the biological father of her baby brother, G.H., is still working toward getting custody of the baby. He underwent a DNA test to establish paternity, which was postponed due to the pandemic, and he now has visitation with his son to reestablish a relationship, because G.H. was so young when Kyle last saw him in late January. Kyle’s mother, Angelica, created a Facebook fundraiser to help Kyle pay off the last of the costs from Autumn’s funeral and to assist him with getting ready to bring the baby home. Best of luck to Kyle as he works toward being permanently reunited with his son!
Click here for my previous coverage of Autumn’s case.
Source: CBS 58, Wisconsin Circuit Court Access portal, Marquette University Law School Faculty Blog, Facebook