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'He was a little ball of happiness and joy': Kokomo woman sentenced for drowning 4-year-old grandson in bathtub

According to court documents, Helen Martin told police she had been so depressed recently that she believed the boy would be better off in heaven than with her.

KOKOMO, Ind. — A Kokomo woman, who police say confessed to drowning her 4-year-old grandson, has been sentenced to 65 years. 

Helen Martin, 58, will serve 45 years in prison under the sentence Thursday and the remainder under supervised probation. 

The Kokomo Tribune reports Helen pleaded guilty last month to murder. 

According to court records, first responders found Helen's 4-year-old grandson, Leo Rae Zingoni, unconscious inside a bathroom in Martin’s home on March 28, 2020. 

When police responded to the home, Brian Martin told them his wife, Helen, drowned the boy. Helen told police she was giving the boy a bath when she held his head under water.

In a video interview with police, Helen said the boy was her grandson, and she and her husband had legal guardianship of him because he was born to her daughter and was addicted to heroin at birth.

According to the probable cause affidavit, Helen told police she often lost her memory due to mental health issues, including PTSD, depression, anxiety and bipolar disorder. After police told her memory loss is not a symptom of any of those conditions, she confessed to drowning the boy, the affidavit says.

Helen said her husband had left the home before she took her grandson in for a bath. She told police she got in the tub with him and held his head underwater. Then, she got out and changed out of her wet clothes, which is when Brian returned home and pulled the boy out of the tub.

Helen told police Brian said she had called to tell him what happened, but she said she didn't remember making that call. She eventually told police she had been so depressed recently that she believed the boy would be better off in heaven than with her.

Credit: Howard County Jail
Helen Martin, 58, of Kokomo, was sentenced to 65 years after confessing to drowning her grandson in a bathtub on March 28, 2020.

The Kokomo Tribune was at Thursday's sentencing hearing, in which Helen appeared via Zoom from the Howard County Jail. Several of the 4-year-old boy's family members read victim impact statements and shared how his death has left a void in all of their lives.

“I will speak for my son because he can’t,” Shawn Zingoni, Leo’s father, told the court. “He was a little ball of happiness and joy ... He had his whole life in front of him.”

Shawn also said that his son trusted and loved Helen, but she betrayed that trust when she took his life.

“You deliberately murdered my son with no remorse,” Shawn said. “He trusted you. You broke that trust with hate and malice ... Nothing can bring back my son.”

Brian, Helen's husband, told the court Thursday that what his wife did to their family was “evil.”

“I’m your husband,” Brian said, looking at Helen on the screen. “You forced me to condemn my wife ... I’m mad as hell at you ... You killed Leo for your own selfish reasons. Leo didn’t belong to you. You were his guardian. Leo loved and trusted you, and you killed him in the cruelest way ... You killed your daughter’s son. Did you ever think about that?”

Megan Bourke, Leo’s mother and Helen’s daughter, spoke of her loss and her mother's mental illness.

“There is an emptiness that a mother should never have to endure ... He was the love of my life. All I can do now is hold his memories in my heart," Bourke said. “My mom is not a monster. She wasn’t in her right mind. We all watched her mental decline ... She’s nothing close to a monster ... I don’t believe the person that killed my son is the mom that I know.”

And in her own statement to the court, Helen addressed the incident, telling everyone that Leo was “her darling boy.”

“I loved my grandson Leo,” Helen said via Zoom. “I am heartbroken at the loss. I miss the sound of his voice. I would do anything to go back to that day, and I’m very sorry for the heartbreak.”

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