By Jeff Lehr
A Sarcoxie woman entered an Alford plea Friday in Jasper County Circuit Court to a felony count of child endangerment in a case involving the alleged abuse of her baby boy.
Benita Devido, 26, entered the plea as part of a deal with the Jasper County prosecutor’s office that would limit the prison time that she might receive to no more than five years. She had been facing the possibility of up to seven years.
An Alford plea admits no guilt but acknowledges the likelihood of a conviction if the matter were to proceed to trial. Circuit Judge David Mouton ordered a sentencing-assessment report on the defendant and set her sentencing hearing for June 28.
The conviction stems from an investigation of a call to the state’s child abuse hot line in March 2012 regarding Devido’s 3-month-old son, Raiden Gates.
A child abuse investigator with the Missouri Department of Social Services and a Sarcoxie police officer went to the home that Devido shared with her boyfriend, Larry Gates, and four children. Their infant son was observed with multiple injuries to his head and other parts of his body.
The state investigator testified at a preliminary hearing last year that the boy had circular burns on his face and forearm, and bite marks on an elbow and knee. He also appeared to be “jerky” and “shaking,” she said.
The baby was taken for an evaluation at Freeman Hospital West in Joplin where a diagnosis of child abuse was reached.
Devido initially suggested to investigators that the burn marks were caused by accidental spattering from cooking. She later suggested that Gates was abusing the boy while she was working and he was acting as the children’s primary caregiver. She said that he had burned the baby with a crack pipe.
Devido told investigators that Gates had been threatening to kill her, the baby and their whole family and had come at her with hammers, knives and other weapons. But she also admitted that she and Gates had smoked methamphetamine together in the baby’s presence and were so strung out on drugs that they would sometimes pass out for hours on end, according to the state investigator.
The children were removed from the home and their parents arrested. The father was charged with child abuse and the mother with child endangerment. Gates, 35, pleaded guilty in October to a reduced count of child endangerment and was sentenced to four years in prison.
Three older children in the home of Benita Devido and Larry Gates told investigators that their father had not abused them, just Devido, according to the testimony of a state investigator at a hearing last year.