Woman Pleads Guilty to Reduced Homicide Charges in Death of Adopted Son

Date: 1996-03-19

Woman Pleads Guilty to Reduced Homicide Charges in Death of Adopted Son

March 19, 1996
Stephen Hunt
The Salt Lake Tribune 

Did a fall from his bunk bed kill 3-year-old Kameron Bright, or was he battered to death? The question may never be answered, but the criminal case has been resolved.

The boy's adoptive mother pleaded guilty Monday to third-degree felony child abuse homicide. But Darlene W. Bright denies physically harming the boy.

``She agrees she should have been more watchful, and that she was negligent for not being so,'' said her attorney, Ronald Yengich.

Bright claims the boy hurt himself on April 2, 1994, in a fall from a bunk bed at her West Valley City home. Kameron died the next day, several hours after being admitted unconscious to Primary Children's Medical Center.

Doctors at the hospital said Bright's bunk bed story did not fit the medical evidence. The boy had two massive skull fractures, blood between his brain and skull and retinal hemorrhaging in both eyes. The Utah Medical Examiner's Office ruled his death a homicide.

Bright was charged with first-degree felony homicide, punishable by up to life in prison, and a trial was set to begin Monday. But because of conflicting evidence that could make the case difficult to prove to a jury, Bright was allowed to plead to the lesser crime of child abuse homicide.

Microscopic testing shows one of Kameron's fractures could be two to three weeks older than the other fracture. If the old fracture rebroke upon impact, Kameron could indeed have died from a fall off his bunk bed, said prosecutor Charles Behrens.

``There is nothing to explain that prior fracture,'' Behrens said. ``We've got a lot of complicated, conflicting medical evidence.''

Yengich said Bright agreed to the plea bargain because she has always ``felt responsible for the child dying on her watch.''

In addition, the medical evidence is ``not precise enough to exclude [Bright as a suspect], nor precise enough to determine her guilty of a first-degree felony beyond a reasonable doubt,'' Yengich said.

Utah's 1994 child abuse homicide statute was enacted because of the difficulty in prosecuting child homicides.

Homicide statutes usually require the perpetrator to have some intent to kill the victim. But intent is lacking from most child homicides, Behrens said. ``There is usually abuse or loss of control, which leads to the death of the child,'' he said.

When Bright is sentenced May 24 by 3rd District Judge Pat B. Brian, she could be sent to prison for up to 5 years.

Meanwhile, Bright will meet with Corrections Department evaluators, who will prepare a report for the judge containing sentencing recommendations. Honesty, remorsefulness and willingness to take responsibility for a crime weigh heavily with the evaluators.

``We will try and learn as much as we can about Kameron's injuries between now and sentencing,'' Behrens said. But he said whole the story behind the boy's death may never be known.

Kameron and his 8-year-old brother were placed in foster care four years ago with Bright and her husband, Marty, who was not criminally charged in the homicide. About a year later, the Brights adopted the two boys.

According to the state Division of Family Services, there was an ongoing pattern of abuse in the Bright home. A year before Kameron died, neighbors reported seeing Darlene Bright slapping the boys in fits of rage. And they reported the older boy had a broken arm and a black eye.

In all, DFS received a half-dozen allegations of child abuse by Bright. Several of those allegations were ultimately substantiated, according to DFS officials. But at the time, DFS failed to act.

Some allegations were only partially investigated; others were not investigated at all. Two DFS workers were disciplined for botching the case.

Following Kameron's death, the 8-year-old boy and the Brights' 13-year-old biological daughter were removed from her supervision, and she was ordered to have no contact with children under the age of 18.

Despite the homicide charges and allegations of other abuse, 3rd District Juvenile Judge Andrew A. Valdez reunited the family in June 1995 after he reviewed psychological evaluations of the parents and spoke with the children.

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