The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Crime & Courts

August 8, 2012

Sarcoxie baby’s mother facing endangerment charge

JOPLIN, Mo. — A Jasper County judge found probable cause Wednesday to order a Sarcoxie woman bound over for trial on a felony charge that she endangered the life of her baby.

Associate Judge Richard Copeland ordered Benita Devido, 26, to stand trial on a count of first-degree child endangerment after a preliminary hearing in Jasper County Circuit Court in Joplin. The judge set Devido’s initial appearance in a trial division of the court for Aug. 24.

The charge stems from an investigation prompted earlier this year by a call to the state’s child-abuse hot line. An investigator with the Children’s Division of the Missouri Department of Social Services paid a visit March 9 to the home of Devido and her boyfriend, Larry Gates, to check on the welfare of their 3-month-old son.

Investigator Britnay Kirkland testified that she observed numerous marks on the baby, including cuts on his head, bruises on an ear, circular burns to his face and a forearm, and bite marks on an elbow and a knee. She said Devido told her that the burn mark on the baby’s face had been caused by an accidental spattering of grease during cooking.

The baby was taken to Freeman Hospital West in Joplin for evaluation, and the medical staff was of the opinion that the various marks were caused by abuse, according to a probable-cause affidavit. The child was removed from the home and placed in protective custody.

Kirkland testified at the hearing that she received a call the next day from Devido’s mother, who said Devido wanted to meet with her to tell her the truth.

During that meeting, Kirkland said, Devido told her that Gates, who was the primary care provider to the baby while she was at work, had been abusing their son, and that the burn mark on his face had been inflicted by Gates with a crack pipe. The investigator said Devido went on to allege that Gates had been abusive toward her as well as the child, coming at her with various weapons and threatening to kill her, the baby and her whole family.

Kirkland told the court that both parents acknowledged in subsequent meetings with caseworkers that they had used methamphetamine in the presence of the baby and had become so “strung out” on the drug that they would pass out for hours on end.

Public defender Frank Yankoviz asked Kirkland if she recalled Devido telling her that the only time she ever used meth was when Gates put a knife to her throat. Kirkland said she did not recall the defendant ever telling her that. The state investigator did acknowledge on cross-examination by Yankoviz that the only urine test of the defendant of which she was aware came back negative for drug use.

Gates, 34, who was charged with child abuse, pleaded guilty July 30 to a reduced count of felony child endangerment in a plea deal limiting the prison time he might be assessed to no more than four years. His sentencing hearing is scheduled for Sept. 24.

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