The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Crime & Courts

February 18, 2014

Mother draws prison term in child’s strangulation death

PITTSBURG, Kan. — A judge ruled Tuesday that a Pittsburg woman should serve 61 months in prison for voluntary manslaughter in the strangulation death of her 13-month-old son.

District Judge A.J. Wachter assessed Cara M. Lloyd, 29, the prison term in the death of Cory Jones Jr. on Oct. 29, 2011, at a residence in Frontenac.

Lloyd is believed to have strangled her son with the straps of his infant seat in a sudden fit of passion in the family room of a friend’s home where she had taken her children for a barbecue.

Initially charged with first-degree murder, Lloyd pleaded no contest in October to the reduced count of manslaughter in a plea agreement with the Crawford County attorney’s office. The deal called for 61 months of lockup but allowed the defense to argue for a lighter term.

Attorney Sam Marsh contended in a brief filed with the court that his client possesses no criminal history of any relevance to the case, poses no danger to the community and has demonstrated a positive change of attitude since her release on bond in March of last year.

But the judge ruled at the hearing Tuesday in Crawford County District Court that he could find no statutory mitigating factors to support a lighter sentence. He noted that Lloyd was old enough at the time to be fully responsible for her actions, that there had been no evidence presented that she was under any duress or compulsion, and that a court-ordered evaluation found no mental illness or psychological conditions affecting the crime.

The judge credited the defendant with 320 days served in jail before her release on bond and awarded her an additional 15 percent credit for good behavior. He ordered that she serve 36 months of supervised probation after her release from prison. District Attorney Michael Gayoso pointed out that she also will be required to register as a violent offender.

The boy’s father, paternal grandmother and aunt expressed some frustration with the outcome of the case after the hearing.

“She should have got a longer sentence since she murdered my child,” Cory Jones Sr. said.

He had been in a relationship with Lloyd up until about a year before his son’s death and had been a stepfather to her two older boys, he said. Lloyd has sons who were 4 and 8 years of age at the time of their brother’s death and another child born to her while she was in jail.

Yolanda Martin, the deceased boy’s grandmother, said she has been struggling with the anger her grandson’s death continues to evoke in her, although she knows what her ultimate response must be.

“I have forgiveness in my heart,” Martin said. “I have to forgive her.”

Martin told Lloyd at the first part of her sentencing hearing in January that she needed to serve some time in prison and “think about what happened.”

Lloyd did not admit culpability at that hearing and stated that the reason she took the plea offer was to save her children the trauma of testifying against her.

Her two older sons were in the room when their brother died. There was testimony at a preliminary hearing in 2012 that the 4-year-old son told the Frontenac police chief that he saw his mother put a strap around his brother’s neck and tie it, and that she then “squeezed” his nose.

Lloyd told a Kansas Bureau of Investigation agent that she had secured the boy properly in the seat’s shoulder straps and fastened them with its chest plate buckle. But when she later went to check on him in the family room of the friend’s home, she found one of his arms sticking out of the harness and a strap wrapped around his neck. He was unresponsive and had stopped breathing, she told the agent.

She unbuckled the harness and tried to remove him from the seat but could not get him out, she told the agent. She then called for help from others in the house.

One of four other adults present at the time, Leroy Dunn, testified at Lloyd’s preliminary hearing that when he came to her assistance, he found the harness strap wrapped two or three times around the child’s neck.

From Dunn’s vantage point in the kitchen, he could see Lloyd and her baby in the family room. But he told the court that he was not focused on them all the time and that he never saw Lloyd put a strap around the child’s neck.

Trina Duncan, the deceased child’s aunt, said the defendant’s account has left the father’s family without a sense of closure.

“Closure is letting you know what happened,” she said. “There’s a gap. There will always be a gap.”

Previous convictions

CARA LLOYD’S only previous convictions are for misdemeanor offenses of theft, conspiracy to commit theft and trespassing.

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