After denying a defense motion for a retrial, a LeFlore County judge sentenced a Heavener mother convicted of child neglect to 50 years in prison on Monday.
Following a five-day trial in July, a LeFlore County jury found Jessica Marie Parker, 28, guilty in the March 27, 2010, incident that left her then 4-year-old son with second- and third-degree burns over his body from the neck down. At that time, the jury recommended the 50-year sentence.
In Oklahoma, a conviction on the charge of child abuse by neglect is punishable by up to life in prison.
That the state sets a life sentence at 45 years and that Parker’s co-defendant, her then live-in boyfriend, Cecil Allen Matthew Hairrell, had already received a life sentence played roles in defense attorney Rob Cowan’s request for a retrial.
Hairrell, 26, pleaded no contest on Oct. 13, 2010, to two charges, child abuse by injury and child abuse by neglect. Then District Judge Danita Williams sentenced him to life in prison on each charge. The sentences run concurrently, and Hairrell must serve 85 percent of his sentence — 38 years and three months — before becoming eligible for parole.
Parker must also serve 85 percent of her sentence — 42 years and six months — before becoming eligible for parole,
Assistant District Attorney Meg Nicholson said after the hearing.
Cowan argued that Parker shouldn’t receive a greater sentence than did Hairrell who actually caused the burns.
Cowan told Associate District Judge Brian Henderson he thought several incidents prejudiced the jury against his client, including one in which the child may have been seen by jury members outside the District Attorney’s Office wearing only a shirt and underwear, which would have exposed the burn scars on the child’s legs. Cowan said his own secretary saw the child but didn’t know if any jurors were present.
The judge had earlier ruled that the child could not be used to model his burns during the trial, Cowan said.
Nicholson said the relative who took the child to the bathroom after he soiled himself told her the boy was wearing a long, baggy T-shirt. She said she’d tried to cover him up to shield him from embarrassment, Nicholson said. She said the relative told her she didn’t see any jurors in the bathroom. Furthermore, Nicholson said, no one had been able to confirm the time at which the incident happened, and it could have been that the jury was already deliberating.
Cowan said unrequested detail offered by a physician also prejudiced the jury against Parker. Cowan had asked if the doctor agreed most of the damage to the child was already done regardless whether the child was treated within two hours or 48 hours. The doctor said the child would probably never be able to have children due to the damage to his genital area.
At the time, Henderson admonished the doctor to limit his answers to the questions asked.
Henderson upheld the defense’s objection to a long, emailed victim impact statement from the child’s grandmother. Cowan contended it included detail about Parker’s history which was irrelevant to the specifics of the case.
However, Henderson permitted the grandmother to take the stand, limiting her to discussing only the events occurring after the child’s injury.
The grandmother, the boy’s guardian since the incident, said the boy was flown to a Tulsa burn center for treatment. He remained unconscious for two days, his body covered with blisters and burns.
She said he developed seven staph infections and underwent seven painful skin grafts as well as multiple daily dressing changes so painful he had to be sedated. He refused to be bathed in a tub or even go into a bathroom for two months, she said. His older brother remains frightened the boys will be taken away, and keeps an emergency backpack filled with crackers and his stuffed dog tucked under his mattress “just in case,” she said.
Several more surgeries are needed, and the financial toll on the family has been “pretty devastating,” she said.
The child is in kindergarten now and doing well, the grandmother told the Times Record. He is active, has learned how to ride a two-wheel bike, knows the alphabet and numbers, and is learning to play with other children, she said.