Justice Rare When Children are Killed

Justice Rare When Children are Killed

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Lucy Dillon Kinkead and Dennis Romboy of the Deseret Morning NewsA two month investigation by the Deseret Morning News has exposed a disturbing reality in our criminal justice system. For a variety of cultural and evidentiary reasons, Utah prosecutors have a hard time filing criminal charges in cases involving the deaths of children.

Kristin brewer: "I think how we prosecute and treat child homicide is a reflection of the larger societal views and I don't think children are as highly regarded as adults, despite all the rhetoric."

On November 25, 1998, Misty Star Sorenson says she awoke to find her two-month-old daughter underneath her dead. The state medical examiner ruled that Kalee Ann died of "compressional asphyxia." She suffocated under the weight of her mother's body. Sorenson admitted to police she was high on meth. She pleaded guilty to child-abuse homicide and was placed on three years probation.

Nearly six years later another daughter of Sorensen's died under eerily similar circumstances. One-month-old Alexanderia died after sharing a twin bed with Sorensen and her boyfriend.

Danielle Mudrock, Salt Lake County Sheriff's Detective: “There wasn’t any outside physical evidence other than the child’s death that made it look any more suspicious than another child’s death.”

Despite Kalee's death, the Salt Lake County District Attorney's Office reviewed Alexandria's case but decided not to prosecute. The Sorenson case underscores the difficulties investigating and prosecuting child abuse deaths. Witnesses are rare and cases are largely circumstantial and often based on complex medical evidence.

Todd Grey, Utah State Medical Examiner: “Let’s say we have a child that has been suffocated to death, that is something that is very difficult to diagnose medically.”

Medical Examiner Todd Grey and his staff examine the bodies of nearly 200 children under age 18 each year. Through autopsies and investigation they must decide if the child was murdered. At least 36 children age six or under in Utah have been killed as a result of physical abuse or neglect since 1999.

But juries rarely convict in these cases. Some say those who are convicted get light sentences. And as the state medical examiner and others confirm, people are getting away with killing children.

You can read more about this story in tomorrow's Deserst Morning News.

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