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Violet Ray gets life sentence in murder of adopted daughter


By Vishal Persaud

Staff writer

Published: Tuesday, August 28, 2012 at 3:03 p.m.

Last Modified: Tuesday, August 28, 2012 at 3:03 p.m.

Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that another child whom Ray cared for died while in the hospital.

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Violet Ray's sentencing hearing

Convicted of murder in the death of her 2-year-old adopted daughter, Violet Ray was sentenced Tuesday to spend the rest of her life in prison.

The 38-year-old Belleview woman was the prime suspect after Faith Ray, her adopted daughter, died of a lethal head injury in December 2008. Ray was subsequently charged with first-degree murder, aggravated child abuse and child neglect.

After a weeklong trial in May, a jury found her guilty on all charges. Her defense team had argued the toddler fell and bumped her head and had a medical condition that caused her to bruise easily.

Ray appeared Tuesday with her defense attorneys at her side, embracing Assistant Public Defender Tricia Jenkins, the lead attorney on her case, before the sentencing hearing began.

Ray cried hysterically and was barely able to speak, but she managed to say a few words before Circuit Judge Robert Hodges imposed a sentence.

"I wish that I had died instead," Ray said. She also told the judge how much she loved Faith.

Prior to her remarks, several of Ray's family members testified that she was a caring person and loved children.

"Children flock to her. She was the magnet for children," said Joe Ray, her husband of more than 14 years.

He talked about how they wanted to have eight children but that his wife had five miscarriages in the first years of their marriage. That's when they decided to seek adoption. They eventually adopted six children.

"It was never an obsession (with children), as it was claimed in court," Joe Ray said.

In the course of three months, he said, they were called to foster three kids and then got the call to make a home for Faith and her brother, Micah, who was born with several heath issues, including asthma.

Family members recounted how Violet Ray stayed by Micah's side when he was hospitalized.

They also said she was irresolute and always second-guessed herself when it came to making decisions.

To help explain why Violet Ray didn't seek medical treatment for Faith, one witness said it was part of the family's sub-culture that they didn't go to the doctor.

Prosecutors alleged that Violet Ray beat Faith and then neglected to call 911 and allowed the child to die. A medical examiner testified at trial that Faith died of a lethal head injury comparable to falling out of a fourth-story window.

Faith was found with multiple bruises on her body. The death was ruled a homicide.

"There was no mercy for Faith," said Assistant State Attorney Amy Berndt in court Tuesday. "She showed no mercy for Faith when she didn't take her to the hospital."

The defense argued at trial that the toddler fell and hit her head, presenting testimony from an ergonomist. He described and showed a hypothetical experiment of how the child could have fallen from a chair while trying to get a slice of pizza.

After all the testimony and rebuttal from the state Tuesday, Jenkins asked the judge to consider a downward departure and impose a lesser sentence for Ray.

"I would ask the court to consider mercy," Jenkins said.

Bound by sentencing guidelines in the Florida statute and the fact that a child was dead, Hodges said he had to uphold the law.

"Evidence clearly showed that the child was beaten to death," he said. "There is no choice but to give her (Ray) a life sentence."

Contact Vishal Persaud at 867-4065, vishal.persaud@starbanner.com or on Twitter @vishalpersaud.

2012 Aug 28