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37-Year-Old Cold Case of Infant's Death Ends in Life Sentence

A man was sentenced to life in prison Friday nearly four decades after the death of a child in his care.

Marion Superior Court Judge Lisa Borges handed down the ruling Friday morning, sentencing 58-year-old Michael Ackerman to life in prison for the death of 21-month-old William T. Wood.

Ackerman, then 21, was baby-sitting 21-month-old William T. Wood in an Indianapolis apartment on Jan. 17, 1977, when the toddler was found dead. Ackerman was dating Wood's mother at the time.

According to the probable cause affidavit, the original death certificate listed the child's cause of death as multiple injuries/undetermined.

But the death had haunted Wood's then 3-year-old sister, Indy Jo Wood, who is now 39 years old. She wanted the case reopened, and even has recollections of the crime, prosecutors said.

"She remembers the defendant having interaction with the victim in that case. She remembers him taking the victim to the bathroom. She remembers crying," said Marion County Deputy Prosecutor Denise Robinson. "She actually was able to describe the room she was in, and the photographs bear that out."

Prosecutors asked forensic pathologist Dr. Dean Hawley to review the victim's autopsy records, and he came to a different conclusion than the original report.

"The cause of death was blunt-force injuries of the head, chest and abdomen, and, my opinion with reasonable medical certainty, is that William Wood was a victim of medically diagnosable child abuse," Hawley said.

The new opinion was enough to convict Ackerman, even after 37 years.

"Yogi Berra was famous for saying, "It's not over until it's over.' With homicide, it's never really over. There is no statute of limitations," said noted Indianapolis defense attorney Jack Crawford, who is not affiliated with this case. "Cases can be brought after many, many years, and a person prosecuted and convicted for a murder done 25 or 35 years ago."

After the verdict was read, Wood expressed her relief.

"It's justice for Billy," she said. "It's justice for my family. It's just a shame [Ackerman] didn't get corrected way back then. He could have come out and had a better life."

The Marion County Prosecutor's Office released a statement saying it was "exceedingly gratified" by the result of the case.

"This conviction and sentence demonstrates our shared commitment to prosecuting crimes, despite the many obstacles that may be present," said Prosecutor Terry Curry.

Prosecutors said Ackerman won't be eligible for parole before serving 20 years of his sentence. His attorneys have already said they will appeal the verdict and the sentence.

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