St. Clair County man gets 47-year sentence for beating 'Little Diva' to death

News-DemocratAugust 16, 2013 

— Julian Gates told a judge on Friday that he just "snapped" when he beat 3-year-old Mia Caito to death.

Gates, 24, told investigators that Mia urinated in her bed, then lied about it, so he beat her with a belt, his hand and an extension cord. The toddler died from blunt force trauma.

Gates pleaded guilty on Friday to first-degree murder. St. Clair County State's Assistant State's Attorney Deborah Phillips asked Chief Judge John Baricevic to sentence Gates to 60 years. Gates' lawyer, Cathy MacElroy, asked for a 20-year sentence.

Baricevic settled on a 47-year sentence.

Mia lived in an apartment near Belleville with her mother, Brandy Johnson, and Gates, Johnson's boyfriend.

In her victim impact statement, Johnson wrote that Mia loved hugs and kisses, wearing her hair in a ponytail and watching the television show "Dora The Explorer."

"She loved to have her nails painted," Johnson said. "Oh, and don't forget to do her toes, too."

That description rang true for Shannon and Andrew Robertson, who raised Mia for almost two years. The Robertsons wanted to adopt Mia, whom they called the "Little Diva," but Johnson refused. She ended the Robertsons' guardianship and sought full custody.

A judge returned Mia to Johnson's custody in February 2011 but Robertson turned Mia over to her aunt, LaShaundra Palmer in Arnold, Mo., until July 2011 when Mia actually returned to live with her mother and Gates at an apartment at 1029 Brookshire near Belleville.

On Jan. 27, 2012, Mia was taken to Memorial Hospital in Belleville. She was covered "head to toe" with bruises, according to investigators.

The Robertsons were with Johnson when the social workers gave her the news that Mia had died.

Gates will be 72 when he's eligible for release from the Illinois Department of Corrections.

Contact reporter Beth Hundsdorfer at bhundsdorfer@bnd.com or 239-2570.