Mom sentenced in child's death

Date: 2003-11-08

By KRISTIN GORDON

kgordon@nncogannett.com

LANCASTER -- Susan Bennett told Fairfield County Common Pleas Court Judge Chris Martin on Friday she could have prevented the death of her 2-year-old daughter. Bennett said she was rushing to get her toddler, Maria, and her 5-year-old sister ready for Saturday Mass.

"I was in a rush," said the 41-year-old single mother. "Things could have been done later."

Prosecutors and detectives believe the child's death was no accident but the result of Shaken Baby Syndrome. Prosecutors wanted Bennett, who pleaded no contest to one count of reckless homicide in September, to receive a four-year prison sentence.

Martin sentenced Bennett to three years Friday. The maximum for the third-degree felony charge is five years. Bennett, who will be taken to prison in two weeks, was not fined. Her 5-year-old daughter has been placed in custody of relatives by children's services.

Bennett adopted Maria from Russia. She had lived in the United States less than a year when she died Oct. 23, 2002.

"She was a very adorable little girl, and she brought so much joy into my life," Bennett said Friday. "I will probably never be able to look at another little girl that resembles her."

Bennett said she was careless and hurried the afternoon of Oct. 19, 2002, the day Maria died at their home, 108 Sunset Drive.

Bennett was getting Maria and her sister ready for Saturday Mass. They'd just returned home from watching "Dragon Tales Live," she told the court Friday.

Bennett told officers she was spoon feeding Maria, who did not want to eat and spat her food. She said she took Maria to the bathroom to shower her, tripping as she carried her to the bedroom. Bennett said she dropped Maria backward, causing her head to hit the floor.

The death was accidental but brought about by her carelessness, Bennett said.

Prosecutors and detectives cited reports from a coroner and Children's Hospital expert to support their belief the child was shaken to death. The syndrome occurs from violent shaking that impact to the head of an infant or small child.

First Assistant County Prosecutor Gregg Marx recommended four years in prison. Bennett's attorney, Scott Wood, asked for probation.

Bennett, a software programmer for an insurance company, has no prior criminal record, Wood said.

He gave Martin a packet of letters from friends, family, coworkers and a priest. He said she is supported by a diverse group of people, many of whom were in the courtroom to support her.

"There is no greater punishment for a parent than to lose their child," he said.

But Bennett was spared a trial, which would have included presenting graphic pictures, said Marx.

"Baby shaking is worse than the typical reckless homicide," he said. "A mother is always supposed to protect her child."

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