Eagle Mountain couple sentenced for child abuse
By Jim Dalrymple
PROVO -- Leslie and Gary Erickson stood pressed together in court Tuesday, tightly gripping one another's hands and listening to Judge Steven Hansen.
"This has been a stunning and horrific story of prolonged abuse," Hansen said to the couple as a young woman in the audience leaned forward, crying.
Moments later, Hansen sentenced Leslie to one to 15 years in prison for second-degree felony child abuse, as well as one year in jail for each of two class A misdemeanors, also for child abuse. Gary was sentenced to a total of three years in jail -- one year for each of three class A misdemeanors for child abuse. Hansen ruled that all of the couple's sentences would run consecutively.
Tuesday's sentencing was a tumultuous and emotional conclusion to a case that began in March 2010 when the couple took their then 5-year-old adopted daughter to a fire station for treatment of severe injuries. The couple reportedly said the girl had fallen and hit her head, but her condition quickly deteriorated and she had to be flown to Primary Children's Medical Center. According to police, doctors told investigators that the girl's injuries were caused by a force equal to an unrestrained child hitting her head on a windshield in a car accident. She also allegedly had injuries consistent with strangulation and wounds in various stages of healing from "head to toe."
The investigation that ensued resulted in the couple being charged with abusing their two young adoptive sons as well. Leslie and Gary both accepted plea bargains in August and consequently earned reduced charges. Leslie had faced five second-degree felonies while Gary had faced three second-degree felonies.
Tuesday in court, defense attorneys representing the couple pleaded for fairness and mercy. Michael Langford, who represented Leslie, said probation would be an appropriate sentence. He pointed out that Leslie had sought counseling on her own and continues to suffer for what she did.
"She lost her family," Langford told the court. "She is essentially an outcast in the community."
Gary's attorney, Robert M. Archuleta, further explained that Gary was less culpable and would be better able to pay restitution if he remained out of jail and gainfully employed.
But prosecutor Julia Thomas painted a different picture of the Ericksons. She said that Leslie had never told police what actually happened to her adopted daughter, instead forcing authorities to speculate. Even without Leslie's explanation, however, Thomas said authorities believe the girl was severely beaten, held up by the neck of her gown and then thrown against a hard object.
"This little girl very nearly died," Thomas added, saying that doctors removed almost half of the girl's skull and she continues to suffer neurological defects.
Following Thomas's remarks, the children's three foster parents recounted the difficulty the children continue to face. They said that the bottoms of the two boys' feet were beaten, and all three kids were subjected to cruel and sadistic punishment methods. One foster mother -- who said in court she did not want to be publicly identified -- said those methods included zip tying the kids to beds, forcing them to stay up all night, requiring them to stand in a bath of ice water for hours and making them lie face down on the garage floor in their underwear for long periods of time.
"Why wasn't she sorry when she had these children?" the foster mother said of Leslie. "These children will live with those scars probably for the rest of their lives."
All three foster parents who testified asked the judge to impose the maximum possible prison sentences. Thomas also said that prosecutors had offered the plea bargain in the first place simply to protect the victims from having to testify about the abuse in court.
"It became apparent to us that it would be in their best interest to resolve this case," Thomas said, referring to the children. "It's not because I believe misdemeanors reflect what went on."
Before the sentence was pronounced, Archuleta passionately argued that the information presented by the foster parents was not included in police reports and was not consistent with the facts of the case.
While Hansen commended Archuleta and Langford for their professionalism, he ultimately sided with prosecutors and ordered the couple to begin their sentences immediately. The ruling elicited loud sobbing from spectators in the courtroom. When prosecutors then asked that the Ericksons be taken into custody without a chance to say goodbye to family members, several people in the courtroom shouted "no." Bailiffs also stood nearby as the Ericksons' supporters exchanged angry words with supporters of the victims' foster parents.
Langford had no comment after the sentencing, and Archuleta said he had nothing to add to his comments in court. Thomas said that the children continue to undergo therapy, but that she was satisfied with the resolution.
"These children needed somebody to stand up for them," she said.