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Woman in Eagle Mountain abuse case gets prison time


James Davis

Deseret News

PROVO — An Eagle Mountain woman who pleaded guilty to child abuse after she locked her niece and nephew in a bathroom, while physically abusing and withholding food from them, will serve up to 20 years in prison, a judge ordered Thursday.

The defense attorney for Mary Heath implored the judge to give her client minimal jail time and no prison time so that she could start working to pay for the counseling of the children, ages 8 and 9, as well as for herself. Attorney Ann Boyle said Heath, 33, has a substantial family support system ready to provide housing and employment.

Both Heath and her boyfriend, Sekoa Aiono, pleaded guilty to multiple felonies. He will be sentenced in February.

"Locking someone in a room is part of the problem in this case, and I'm not going to do that," Judge James Taylor said, making it clear that continued solitary confinement at Utah County Jail, where Heath has been held, would not be an option. "The crime is astounding, especially in a community where we have extensive resources."

Taylor called the crime heinous and said, "Frankly, we are fortunate we don't have a homicide."

Taking verbal cues from her attorney, while friends and family in attendance quietly sobbed, an emotional Heath quietly expressed her sorrow to the court — her words at times becoming inaudible whispers to those in the courtroom.

"I want to convey to the court ... that I will accept your judgment. I'm ready to stand accountable," Heath said. "It was my only motive, to help and love them ... I eventually realized that I was inadequate. I did tell them continually that I did not know how to help them. There is no possible excuse that could ever justify any abuse, let alone me hitting (them)."

Prior to the sentencing, prosecutor Timothy Taylor asked the judge to impose a sentence of prison time due to the gravity of the crimes. He also said that while there isn't an exact definition of weapon in the sentencing guidelines, the belt used for the abuse should be considered as such. He continued to the judge, that "established instances of repetitive criminal activity," in the presence of children should be strongly considered in sentencing.

"Injuries were inflicted to cause a great amount of pain," Taylor said. "Sometimes when they were beaten, they were placed in cold water to prevent this marks from showing up."

He reminded the judge that the children were put into the bathrooms naked and without food. He said they resorted to eating soap and chemicals, even though the house was thoroughly stocked with food when deputies searched it.

"The house wasn't wanting for food, but the children were," Taylor said. "Severe, severe, malnutrition, judge." Three weeks after the children were freed from their aunt's care, each had gained more than 20 pounds. Taylor said the children are now doing better and are attending school, but face a difficult road ahead. Additional charges of sexual abuse were dropped as part of the plea deal as prosecutors didn't believe they could prove such beyond a reasonable doubt.

E-MAIL: jdavis@desnews.com

2009 Jan 15