31 May 2007

Child Death Overkill Again

Child abuse is a crime. Losing it and killing your kids in a rage is wrong and should be punished. But, is a developmentally disabled mother who repeatedly blows her top and eventually throws her baby across the room really such a public menace that she needs to be in prison for the next 55 to 75 years? The El Paso County District Attorney, aided by a flawed Colorado law, thinks that she is, even if the prosecutor is willing to waive a shot at life in prison without parole for the woman (which is largely a distinction without a difference in this case).

A Colorado Springs woman admitted this morning she threw her 8-month-old baby so hard that the infant hit her head and died from her injuries. . . .

Preston’s daughter, Bianca Limerick, died in March 2006 from head wounds.

When [the Judge] asked Preston, 37, what she did, Preston said: “I threw her and she hit her head on the bed rail.”

Preston admitted she was “really stressed out” and that her oldest daughter was crying and demanding her attention. That girl, who was 2 years old at the time, lives with family in Illinois.

As for the second charge, Preston admitted she pulled Bianca’s arm so hard, the bone snapped. An associate coroner who performed an autopsy on the baby ruled she had “battered baby syndrome,” an indication of repetitive child abuse.

El Paso County Department of Human services officials investigated two reports of abuse on Bianca, who was reported once to have a face covered with bruises. Investigators tracked at least a dozen old rib, arm and leg fractures Bianca suffered.

Colorado Springs police officers found Bianca dead in a child-safety seat March 15, 2006, in the back of Preston’s minivan. Preston had driven the van with the baby’s corpse in it for at least a day, according to police, including a trip to Denver. . . . Preston suffers from a developmental disability and emotional problems, [Public Defender] Elkins said.

If the woman had lost it and killed an adult stranger, she would have faced mitigated second degree murder charge with a considerably shorter permissible sentencing range: 8-24 years plus 5 years of mandatory parole (with a shot at release after no more than 16 years, i.e. at age 53). Ms. Preston will be lucky to be out of prison in 38 years (i.e. at age 75), even if she receives the minimum sentence, and then will face 5 years of mandatory parole. And, of course, she probably wouldn't have suffered the same personal grief and loss at having killed an adult stranger that she will at having killed her own baby.

This woman is a horribly bad parent who isn't up to the task of being a parent, whom we as a society says is criminally culpable. She isn't a real monster or public threat.

There are monsters who need to be locked up for a long time in Colorado. In today's batch of Colorado Court of Appeals decisions, they include this guy (prolonged multiple rape-murders as punishment for a drug deal payment dispute), and this guy (home invader that assaulted the family, kidnapped them, stole their life savings kept in cash at another location, and raped and sodomized their ten year old). She just isn't one of them. She isn't so bad that we should mandate that she dies in prison.

The argument that all killings and assaults are equally culpable and should produce similar punishments, even when they are domestic in nature, is plausible. But, Colorado's rule, which punishes parents who lose it much more severely than people who inflict comparable harm upon stranger, looks like harsh, wasteful overkill up close.

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