Woman gets 15 to life in Elk Grove slaying of adopted daughter, 3
By Andy Furillo
Officials long suspected that Sabrina Albert Banks abused children – burning a kid with a spoon, hitting a niece with a switch cut off a tree. They even arrested her once on suspicion of abusing a foster child who died in her custody.
None of the allegations ever stuck – until last month, when Banks pleaded no contest to second-degree murder in the death of the 3-year-old daughter she adopted from China.
On Friday, Sacramento Superior Court Judge Ernest W. Sawtelle closed the books on Banks when he sentenced the 42-year-old defendant to 15 years to life in prison for the girl's death.
According to her probation report, the Elk Grove Fire Department was summoned to Banks' residence in the 9900 block of Sorrentino Drive on May 2, 2008, and found her daughter Lavender unresponsive. The girl bled from the mouth and had suffered bruising to her arms, legs, chest, back and buttocks, the report says.
Paramedics declared Lavender dead at the scene. An autopsy report determined she died of multiple blunt force injuries and "possible asphyxia" by smothering.
The probation report says Banks told authorities she woke her daughter from a nap and found "she had vomited on herself. She picked up the victim and took her into the bathroom to clean her off and noticed she was cold and stiff."
Banks said she removed food from the girl's mouth, called 911 and got instructions on how to perform CPR, the report states.
But investigators said Banks waited eight hours to call 911 and that they found inconsistencies in her story.
They became more suspicious when they found a letter to her mother on the family room table that looked like a suicide note, according to the report.
The report detailed past child abuse allegations against Banks – hitting a niece with a switch in 1998; striking a 9-year-old girl, denying her food and telling her to "shut up" in 2000; hitting one of her three biological children with a switch in 2002 and refusing to allow the child to be interviewed outside her presence by a social worker.
In 2002, child abuse investigators responded to a complaint that Banks heated up a spoon and used it to burn the 1-year-old sister of a foster child in her custody, the report says.
The next year, investigators probed the death of a 4-month-old child put under Banks' care on an emergency placement, according to the probation report.
No cause of death was ever determined. Banks was arrested on suspicion of child cruelty but never charged, nor were any of the other accusations against her ever substantiated, the report states.
The probation report says Banks was unemployed at the time of her arrest that took place more than a year after Lavender died. She lived on Social Security and welfare payments.
It said she had three children of her own, including one minor since put in a permanent placement program.
It listed a Visalia address as Banks' residence. It did not say where any of the previous child abuse reports took place.
Sacramento County spokeswoman Laura McCasland said the local Child Protective Services agency has "no history" on Banks prior to Lavender's death.
A state Department of Social Services spokesman said late Friday afternoon that he was unable to retrieve any records on Banks' case.
Neither Deputy District Attorney Kevin Greene nor Assistant Public Defender Judy Odbert could be reached for comment after the sentencing.
Banks told probation officials she "observed visible signs of health problems" in the little girl before she adopted her, the report states. She said that caring for the girl was "exhausting."
Although she pleaded no contest in the case, she "denied ever harming the child," the report says.
She said in the probation report that her daughter had choked on a piece of bread and that she laid her down for a nap afterward.
When she went to feed the girl dinner, she "realized the victim was non-responsive," the report said.