Woman gets jail for child abuse

Relates to:
Date: 2004-12-22

The Jackson Sun

A Kenton mother found guilty of one count of child abuse and neglect last month will have to spend 20 days in jail for striking a then 17-year-old girl in the eye with a shoe in December 2003.

Frances Ellen Matthews was sentenced Tuesday in Gibson County General Sessions Court to 11 months and 29 days in jail. All of the sentence was suspended except for 20 days, Gibson County Court Clerk Janice Jones said.

Matthews also received supervised probation and must report to jail at 8 a.m. Jan. 3 to begin serving her sentence, Jones said.

The Department of Children's Services removed 16 children-many with severe physical and mental disabilities-from the home of Matthews and her husband, Dale, in August over child abuse and neglect accusations. The children ranged in age from 3 to 17.

Matthews has 10 days to appeal the decision, said her attorney, Jason Scott of Trenton. They're considering an appeal and "will give it a day or two" to make sure that's what they want to do, Scott said.

If they appeal, the case would go to the grand jury and then to Circuit Court, where Matthews has a right to a trial by jury.

The couple still has a dependent neglect case pending in Gibson County Juvenile Court. Hearings are scheduled for Feb. 15 and 16, Gibson County Juvenile Court Clerk Lee Hayes said.

Another Gibson County couple was found guilty of "severe child abuse" Monday following their dependent neglect hearing in Juvenile Court. In that case, Thomas and Debra Schmitz might lose parental rights to most of their 18 children, said Mitch Tollison, an attorney representing DCS in both cases.

In the Matthews case, the DCS determined at the time it took the children that the couple had adopted 12 of them. One was a girl the Matthews were providing respite for, which involves keeping a child for a short period of time. The DCS was trying to determine the legal status of the other three children at the time of their removal.

Scott had hoped for a completely suspended sentence and was disappointed Frances Matthews got jail time, he said. She's testified that she's never committed a crime, never before been charged with anything and never had a speeding ticket, "which is why I was disappointed," Scott said. "She's got a good record."

But Scott wasn't surprised by the sentence, given the case and the media attention, he said. He said the prosecution remarked that in a child abuse case, the office tries to get some jail time.

He also believed Matthews got jail time because of a dependent neglect investigation by the North Carolina DCS when she lived there. The prosecution presented documents to the court from that case during Tuesday's 45-minute sentencing hearing, Scott said.

Matthews was sentenced for an incident in December 2003 during which she admittedly threw a shoe, striking the girl in her right eye. She also was accused of slamming the girl against the dryer, bruising the left side of her face, according to warrants in General Sessions Court.

Scott has said Matthews admitted to throwing the shoe out of frustration, but she said she didn't mean to hit the child. There was no testimony and no witnesses presented at the November hearing about the dryer incident, and Matthews has always denied it, Scott has said.

The judge dismissed a charge at the November hearing involving a 13-year-old girl Frances Matthews was accused of whipping excessively with a yard stick, breaking the stick on the child. She also was accused of beating the same girl with a wire coat hanger, causing bruises about the girl's leg, the warrant said. Visit talkback.jacksonsun.com and share your thoughts.


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