WORTHINGTON -- A Worthington woman who allegedly abused her son in January 2008 pleaded guilty in Nobles County District Court on Tuesday to malicious punishment of a child.
Deborah Denise Brown, 25, of Worthington, used an Alford plea, telling Judge Timothy Connell there was "not much she could do under the circumstances."
An Alford plea is one in which the defendant does not admit the act and asserts innocence, but admits sufficient evidence exists which would likely convince a jury to find the person guilty.
As part of the plea agreement, a charge of third-degree assault with substantial bodily harm was dismissed.
According to the complaint, filed in February 2009, a 3-year-old male was brought into the emergency room in January 2008, where it was discovered he had two broken clavicles (collarbones) and trauma to the liver.
The child's father brought him to the ER and said he did not know how the injuries occurred. The boy's mother had said he had been injured falling off a bed onto a dresser. The doctor told authorities she did not believe the mother's version of events was likely to have caused the injuries.
When asked about his injuries, the boy referred to his mother by first name and indicated she had hurt him, miming a stomping action with his foot. During questioning, Brown allegedly told police she was young and caring for the children as best she could, and admitted to using a belt strap on them at times.
Last week the State of Minnesota Court of Appeals filed an opinion affirming the Nobles County District Court's decision to terminate Brown's parental rights. Brown had appealed the TPR (Termination of Parental Rights), claiming the district court had failed to consider her progress on her reunification plan, that the record did not show termination was in the best interest of the children and that she was denied due process of law when the county filed criminal charges against her shortly before the termination trial, limiting her ability to testify in the termination trial without collateral consequences in the criminal trial.
While the appellate judges concluded they found the timing of the county's criminal case "troublesome," they also found the appellant was not denied due process of law.
Three children were removed from their parents' care and placed in foster care the day after the 3-year-old was brought to the ER. Because Brown was maintaining regular contact with her children and was supported by a guardian at litum, a TPR proceeding was initially continued so Brown could improve her parenting skills in an attempt to reunify the family. Over the summer of 2008, the opinion states, Brown completed parenting classes and became eligible for unsupervised visits with her children. By fall of 2008, she allegedly had difficulty maintaining her visitation schedule and began to cancel or shorten visits with her kids.
She reportedly declined to attend counseling with her children and failed to help one child overcome a speech difficulty or participate in training for medical equipment for another child. She allegedly blamed the cancelled and shortened visits on opportunities to work overtime, but others claimed she was seen around town during the times she claimed to be at work.
As a result, the county went ahead with the TPR and Brown's parental rights were terminated in March 2009.
During Tuesday's hearing, Brown told the judge she entered into the plea agreement hoping to stay out of jail.
"There is nobody that can help me," she said. "It's my word against theirs."
Connell ordered a pre-sentence investigation to determine final sentencing, but the plea agreed upon is for a stay of imposition with a 30 day cap on any jail time, with the possibility of electronic home monitoring, a fine decided by the court and up to five years of probation.
Connell then dismissed the court.
Brown, who wore the white uniform of a meat packing facility and had carried a hard hat into the court room, asked to speak said there was a good chance she would be back in court because she was supposed to be taking her driving test that day but had to appear for the hearing instead. She said she had spent the last several days in a trial in South Dakota and was in court that day on a break.
"It was the one day I had to do it and I had to be here," she complained.