Dennis Romboy and Lucinda Dillon Kinkead of The Deseret Morning NewsDefenseless infants and toddlers who are shaken, beaten or smothered at the hands of parents and caretakers are going to early graves without justice being done. A two month investigation conducted by the Deseret Morning News has found child killers often do minimal prison time or no time at all.
Ronnie Davies was three-and-a-half-years old when he died in 1985 in Washington County. His mother said he fell off the toilet and hit his head. But medical records and an investigation pointed to murder and it became the first case in the state to be recognized as the non-accidental trauma death of a child.
Brent Chandler, Former Washington City Police Chief: “I don’t think we realized we may be cutting new territory. I guess the one thing that drove us the most was the fact that a child died and that death did not need to go unanswered.”
The boyfriend of the boy's mother was eventually convicted in his death. He served 15 years. The Davies case is now recognized by attorneys and child advocates as a groundbreaking turning point in Utah's history.
Rob Parrish, Former Assistant Attorney General: “Back in those days child homicide cases weren’t taken very seriously. I was not aware of any case that was charged higher than manslaughter, than the case in St. George.”
Rob Parrish is a former assistant attorney general who headed the state's Juvenile Justice Division. He says he has seen progress made in bringing child killers to justice over the last twenty years, but he's also seen some backsliding.
Rob Parrish: "The real concern is when it's a class a misdemeanor sentence, and that still happens even on clear cases of child homicide."
Statewide prison sentences for child killers are rarely longer than 15 years. Edward Gularte was sentenced to 15 months in jail for beating to death his son. The judge suspended both prison and jail sentences for Rebekah Woods in the death of her 4-day-old son Oliver.
Lorin Leavitt was charged with murder, but pleaded to third-degree felony child abuse homicide and was sentenced to up to five years in prison for the beating death of his girlfriend's son Wyatt Radmall. Prosecutors tend to resolve cases through plea agreements on lesser charges.
Craig Barlow, Assistant Utah Attorney General: "Even though that has kind of a negative connotation for some folks, plea agreements in most cases are an excellent way to resolve the case. The big advantage, the defendant acknowledges responsibility."
And there is at least some justice rather than none.
What is especially worrisome to child advocates is that for every child abuse case you hear about, there are many more who have not drawn the attention of the public or an assertive prosecutor.
You can read more in today edition of the Deseret Morning News.