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Mom guilty in death of daughter



Lancaster Eagle-Gazette (OH)

LANCASTER -- A mother charged with her adopted daughter's death might be required to prepare a public service announcement addressing the fragility of babies.

Susan Jane Bennett, 41, of 108 Sunset Drive pleaded no contest to a count of reckless homicide Wednesday in Fairfield County Common Pleas Court. The girl, adopted from Russia, had spent about nine months in the United States.

Coroners ruled that her daughter, 2-year-old Maria Bennett, died Oct. 23, 2002, as a result of shaken baby syndrome. This occurs from violent shaking and impact to the head of an infant or small child, according to the Utah-based National Center on Shaken Baby Syndrome.

"The tragic death of Maria Bennett should have some meaning," said Gregg Marx, first assistant prosecutor. In exchange for her plea, prosecutors dropped a count of endangering children.

Before Judge Chris Martin found Bennett guilty, Marx asked him to consider the announcement be in video form. He asked the judge to sentence Bennett to four years in prison, but would not oppose probation after two years served.

By only nodding or shaking her head, Bennett told Martin that she understood her rights, the prison time she faced and was making the plea by her own will.

"We do not believe the act was intentional," Marx said.

Martin will rule Nov. 7 at a separate sentencing hearing. The maximum sentence for the third-degree felony is five years in prison and a $10,000 fine.

Lancaster police and medics went to the Bennett home Oct. 19, following a 911 call.

According to reports, Bennett told officers she was spoon-feeding Maria, who did not want to eat and would spit her food. She then allegedly took her daughter to the bathroom to shower her, tripping as she carried her to the bedroom. Bennett then said she dropped Maria backward, causing her head to hit the floor.

"She told (the officer) perhaps she hurt Maria more than she helped," Marx said. "Later she told (the officer) she dropped her ... she later said 'I don't know what the heck I did -- I panicked.' "

Although graphic, the account couldn't have caused the eye injuries and fatal head wounds, Marx said.

"The medical experts do not accept the explanation that was given," he said.

As Bennett called 911, she hung up twice as she dropped the phone, attempting to resuscitate Maria, according to the 911 call transcripts. Bennett told dispatchers Maria had a cold and suffered from asthma.

Maria was taken to Fairfield Medical Center and then flown by MedFlight to Children's Hospital. The next day, Lancaster police detectives and an agent from the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation searched Bennett's home. Her 5-year-old daughter was placed in custody of relatives by children's services.

2003 Sep 18