Child-abuse pleas draw disparate sentences
Two defendants who pleaded guilty to identical felony child abuse charges received starkly different sentences in Mesa County District Court on Monday.
Early in the day, Erin DeSpain, 24, of Clifton, was sentenced by Judge Brian Flynn to eight years in prison for her guilty plea to two felony counts of child abuse.
DeSpain brought her then 2-month-old baby to St. Mary’s Hospital on May 17, 2007, after hearing a cracking noise when she was changing the infant’s diaper. Doctors at the hospital said the baby had multiple broken ribs and found evidence the injuries occurred on different dates.
“This was a baby that had more broken bones than many of us have in a lifetime,” foster mother Nichole Baldozier testified Monday.
Flynn could have sentenced DeSpain to probation or jail time, but said Monday those punishments wouldn’t fit the crime.
Instead, he sentenced DeSpain to the stiffest sentence possible according to terms of her plea agreement.
“I think it’s difficult for anyone to believe that anyone could do these things to a child,” Flynn said.
DeSpain told Flynn that she must have been the one to hurt her child because the baby was in her care, but she could not remember causing the injuries.
She said she is complying with the Mesa County Department of Human Services to receive mental health counseling and has a plan to pay child support for her two children.
The father of the two kids now has custody.
“As a mother, I have definitely failed,” DeSpain told Flynn. “Everyone in this case has asked for an explanation, and I really wish I could give an answer. It’s frustrating and really, really scary that I can’t give answers.”
This was DeSpain’s second such incident involving one of her two children.
While living in Fort Collins, DeSpain’s first child sustained a skull fracture after she fell out of a baby carrier and hit her head on the cement sidewalk when DeSpain tripped.
Larimer County officials did not press charges in that case, but that charge was reflected in the two felonies included in Mesa County’s plea agreement.
In another child abuse case Monday, John Wilson, 41, will spend 10 years on probation, and will wait in Mesa County Jail until a bed opens up at the county’s work release facility, where he will spend two years.
Wilson also pleaded guilty to two class 4 felony child abuse charges stemming from his role in using handcuffs to chain his son to a banister — denying him food, water and bathroom privileges for up to 12 hours a day for nine months.
The second charge was the result of his beating another girl who lived in the house with a belt, denying her food and once grounding her for a year to sit at the kitchen table from the time she was done with school until bedtime.
Wilson’s remorse proved the difference in the sentences, it seems.
The allegations of the Wilson case on first glance instill “complete outrage,” Chief Deputy District Attorney Tammy Eret said, but she weighed the facts against Wilson’s immediate confession, his cooperation on seeking help, and the fact that much of the abuse allegedly was directed by Wilson’s then-girlfriend Kristie Moore.
Moore previously pleaded not guilty to her role in the case, but may enter a guilty plea during a hearing today.