Sandy woman sentenced to prison for causing her 6-year-old son's death over potty training struggles

A mother was sentenced Monday to prison for causing the death of her son in West Jordan. Third District Judge Douglas Hogan said he thinks she should never be put on parole.

A mother was sentenced Monday to prison for causing the death of her son in West Jordan. Third District Judge Douglas Hogan said he thinks she should never be put on parole. (Yukai Peng, Deseret News)

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WEST JORDAN — A Utah judge said he does not believe Reyna Elizabeth Flores-Rosales of Sandy should ever be placed on parole when he sentenced her to prison for causing the death of her son, 6-year-old Norlin Cruz, through child abuse.

Norlin died in the care of doctors in February 2019 after his mom sought medical care when he was unresponsive. Doctors found many additional injuries on his body, some of which videos and messages showed were from his mom's attempts to potty train him.

"This was horrible. It was horrible in the worst way," the judge said.

Third District Judge Douglas Hogan said the case was "particularly disturbing" and in all of his time in the justice system, he has never encountered a case like this. He said he has seen tragic cases where people "lost their cool" but this is different.

"I haven't seen systematic abuse like this. The court was particularly disturbed by what I believe can be accurately construed as the defendant's efforts to protect herself, rather than Norlin," Hogan said.

The judge reflected on the time he spent raising livestock and said he had never even seen animals treated the way Flores-Rosales treated her son; he believes if it had happened to animals, other ranchers would have stopped it.

"It's despicable," he said.

Hogan ordered Flores-Rosales to serve consecutive sentences for the charges for which a jury found her guilty. It adds up to at least seven years in prison — four she has already served while the charges were pending — and possibly life in prison, which Hogan said he will suggest.

For reckless child abuse homicide, a first-degree felony, Flores-Rosales was ordered to spend between five years and life in prison; for two counts of intentional child abuse, a second-degree felony, she was ordered to spend between one and 15 years in prison; and, for one count of reckless child abuse, a third-degree felony, she was ordered to spend up to five years in prison.

'I died too'

Flores-Rosales, 35, said through a Spanish interpreter that being sentenced for her child's death was very difficult, as she lost her son.

"I just want to ... tell all of you today that the day he died, I died too. That boy was my best friend, my partner. I called him my king, my prince. He was everything to me ... and I fought for him all the time, since he was in my belly," she said.

She said those who testified against her did it to benefit themselves. The mom did apologize for putting her son in danger and everyone else.

"I am doing this because I put him in danger, not because I killed him," she said.

Flores-Rosales asked the judge for a second opportunity to live her life.

"I think that we are all human beings and we all have a second chance," she said.

Her attorney, Deborah Kreeck Mendez, argued against a request for at least 25 years in prison — something the judge can recommend but not order. She asked for the sentences to be run together, which would mean Flores-Rosales could be out of prison in less than a year, and the Board of Pardons and Parole could determine when to release her.

She said the jury choose to convict Flores-Rosales of child abuse homicide rather than aggravated murder and the lighter conviction should make a difference.

Mendez said her client had been assaulted multiple times in jail by mentally ill people and was assaulted shortly before going to prison. She said Flores-Rosales has been involved with drugs since she was a child, grew up with a harsh mother, had a child at 16 years old, was separated from that child while crossing the border to the United States at 23 and was involved with multiple controlling men since.

"Reyna's life is different from anyone else's in this courtroom," Mendez said of her client, reiterating that Flores-Rosales had no support while raising two children, and was in the process of seeking to regain custody of her oldest child in Michigan. She said what happened to Norlin should be considered in the context of Reyna's life and capabilities.

"Reina's life was Norlan's life — she just lived and continued in this hell," Mendez said. "She has suffered from this loss also. She did not hate Norlin. She loved Norlin."

The defense attorney said there is no question that what happened is tragic, but the lifetime of issues that brought Flores-Rosales to that point is significant and should be considered in the sentence.

"She did love him, she just didn't have the capability to manage him," Meeds said.

An innocent life

Deputy district attorney Melanie Serassio said Norlin was repeatedly tortured, and his mother never took responsibility. She said the mother told people about potty training issues and said Norlin was being difficult to potty train to hurt her.

She said there were 99 injuries all over the boy's body and doctors testified during the trial that those injuries occurred over a long period of time, including a massive burn, broken bones, marks that could result from being strangled, abrasions and the significant head trauma that ultimately caused his death.

This is one of the worst cases of child abuse that I have seen in nearly 28 years as a prosecutor.

– Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill

Serassio also said video evidence showed Flores-Rosales screamed and yelled at her son, demeaning him, degrading him and repeatedly calling him names. She said these injuries were not accidental.

"An innocent, 6-year-old life was taken, needlessly and brutally," she said.

Showing a photo of the boy, Serassio said, "his soul is completely crushed from this woman who he calls mom."

The prosecuting attorney said the fridge and pantry at the home were well-stocked, but Norlin was in a state of starvation when he died. The fridge, which contained lobster, was locked with a bicycle lock.

"She is a danger to her own children and she is a danger to any children that are in her control," Serassio said.

Flores-Rosales took herself to the hospital for headaches and her younger child to the doctor for checkups while Norlin had significant burns, but she did not ever take Norlin for care until she called 911 when he was unresponsive, Serassio said.

"That, to me, indicates a complete lack of any kind of sympathy … she has no sympathy, whatsoever, for her own son and his injuries," she added.

Serassio and deputy district attorney Richard Pehrson asked Hogan to request that she be incarcerated for a minimum of 25 years — long enough to ensure she is past the age where she can have children. They said it would be unusual, but that the case is unusual.

Pehrson said Norlin endured years of terror and abuse, even though the incidents mentioned in the charging documents spread over just a few months. He cited reports from people who interacted with the family over the last few years, some who stopped specific instances of abuse.

In a conversation he had with her mom, Pehrson said, Flores-Rosales had told her, "I don't want him or love him anymore." And, "He's going to pay for it."

Her mom had responded, "Yes, but from a moment of anger you can kill him," and "I can't stand seeing the torture that you do to that boy, and if you don't want him ... it's very easy to give children away there." Pehrson said the mom was referring to the U.S., encouraging her daughter to drop her son off somewhere he would be cared for.

Pehrson said Flores-Rosales was protecting herself by keeping Norlin away from anyone who could advocate for him, including keeping him out of school for the last year of his life.

He said all of this abuse was simply because Norlin pooped.

Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill said Norlin was abused by his mother with "intentional, heinous and repeated violence," and everyone who participated in the prosecution was moved by what they found.

"The level of callous, humiliating and gratuitous violence inflicted here demanded the most severe punishment," Gill said. "Today's sentence is what we as a community can do for the tragic loss of Norlin's life. No amount of time will be long enough for the crime this defendant committed and the manner in which she did it."

Gill said he plans to send a letter to the Board of Pardons and Parole requesting she be held in prison as long as possible.

"Norlin was a child that only had his foster family left to mourn him when he died from the wounds inflicted by his own mother. Our condolences go out to those who loved this young child. This is one of the worst cases of child abuse that I have seen in nearly 28 years as a prosecutor. We applaud the judge who delivered the consecutive sentences through tear-filled eyes," he said.


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Emily Ashcraft joined as a reporter in 2021. She covers courts and legal affairs, as well as health, faith and religion news.


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