2nd suspect in child abuse case takes plea deal

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A second suspect has pleaded guilty in a very disturbing case of child abuse and neglect in Utah County.

The abuse was discovered two months ago in Eagle Mountain, and two young children were rescued from a situation where they were not only being physically abused, but were severely malnourished because food was being kept from them.

The abuse happened at a home in Eagle Mountain where Mary Heath, the children's aunt who had custody of them, lived.

Heath admitted last month to physical abuse and also starving the children. Today, her boyfriend, Sekoa Aiono, who was also arrested, took the same plea deal. He admitted to two counts of child abuse for hurting the children and two counts of child abuse for not providing them food.

2nd suspect in child abuse case takes plea deal

Aiono's attorney downplayed his involvement, but prosecutors say he could have prevented the abuse and didn't. "This idea of discipline by starvation or food rationing was not his. It was the other co-defendant's, and he, of course, went along with it to some degree or another. But an active participant, he was not," defense attorney David Drake said.

2nd suspect in child abuse case takes plea deal

Prosecutor Tim Taylor said, "He pleaded guilty to withholding food for discipline and disciplining the kids, causing physical injury. It wasn't a ‘no contest' plea. It was a guilty plea."

As part of the plea deal, it is expected that both Heath and Aiono will receive similar sentences. Prosecutors will ask that they serve consecutive sentences of up to five years, followed by one to fifteen years in prison.

The children remain in foster care and authorities say they making progress from the abusive situation and are also in counseling.

E-mail: spenrod@ksl.com

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Sam Penrod


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