The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Crime & Courts

February 24, 2014

Joplin mother assessed prison term in shaken-baby case

A Joplin mother pleaded guilty Monday to child abuse in a shaken-baby case and was sentenced to 15 years in prison.

Samantha L. Dechert, 25, changed her plea to guilty in a plea deal with the Jasper County prosecutor’s office.

Dechert had been charged with first-degree assault in connection with head injuries suffered by her 2-month-old son, William E. Bustamante, on Feb. 13, 2012. The prosecutor’s office amended the charge to felony child abuse on Friday, and Dechert accepted a plea offer at a hearing Monday in Jasper County Circuit Court.

The prosecutor agreed to limit the prison time that she might receive to 15 years, and the defendant agreed to waive her right to a sentencing-assessment report. Circuit Judge David Dally accepted the plea agreement at the hearing and assessed the prison term.

Dechert took her son to the emergency room of Freeman Hospital West with seizures a day after he is believed to have suffered a serious head injury. But she left the hospital before the child was seen by a doctor.

She showed up with the infant at Mercy Hospital in Joplin the next day, Feb. 15, 2012, and he was flown to Cox Medical Center South in Springfield in critical condition. Dr. John Carlile talked to the mother there about what had happened, and she told him that she accidentally fell while carrying her baby in her arms two days before. She told him that the baby fell onto a bed.

Carlile observed retinal hemorrhaging in both of the infant’s eyes, and a computerized tomography scan detected multiple collection points of bleeding between the baby’s brain and skull, the doctor testified at a hearing in May 2012.

The doctor said he became concerned that the mother’s story did not account for the array of injuries the child had suffered, even when she added that his head struck a wall as he fell to the bed. Carlile believed the child’s injuries were indicative of “abusive head trauma,” terminology that the medical profession now prefers for what is more commonly referred to as shaken-baby syndrome, he told the court.

A Joplin police detective testified at the same hearing that Dechert stuck to her account that she fell and the baby slipped from her arms during a videotaped walk-through with police a few days after his injury. She said during the walk-through that she had been on Facebook late at night, and that she got up and was taking the baby into a bedroom when she fell.

But she eventually confessed that she had shaken the child when he would not stop crying, Detective Chad Comer told the court.



Prognosis

A DOCTOR TESTIFIED at a preliminary hearing in May 2012 that William Bustamante would have lifelong developmental problems as a result of injuries suffered when his mother shook him when he was 2 months old. Efforts to obtain an update on the child’s developmental status through the prosecutor’s office on Monday were unsuccessful.

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