COLVILLE – Deer Park-area resident Carole Ann DeLeon pleaded innocent Tuesday to a second-degree murder charge in the death of her 7-year-old adopted son.
She is accused of depriving Tyler J. DeLeon of food and water until he died of dehydration in January 2005.
On Tuesday, Carole Ann DeLeon, 51, reiterated her May 16 innocent plea to a charge of second-degree criminal mistreatment of an 8-year-old foster child, identified only by his initials: S.M.M.
Stevens County Prosecutor Jerry Wetle said DeLeon cruelly deprived both children of basic necessities. Deliberate cruelty and other alleged aggravating factors could open the door to an above-standard sentence, up to life in prison.
Other aggravating factors with which DeLeon is charged in both counts are that she abused the trust of children in her care, that there was “an ongoing pattern of psychological or physical abuse,” and that the alleged misconduct occurred in the presence of DeLeon’s other minor children.
Also Tuesday, in response to a records request from The Spokesman-Review, a state official said that the Department of Social and Health Services has received two $10 million claims filed on behalf of minor children placed in DeLeon’s care.
Both claims, which were filed separately in June and July, allege bodily injury. No other details were immediately available.
If a jury finds DeLeon guilty of any of the aggravating factors, she could receive an above-standard sentence. She faces a standard range of slightly more than 11 years to 19 1/2 years if convicted of both second-degree murder and second-degree criminal mistreatment.
Wetle won’t have to prove DeLeon intended to kill her adopted son. Under Washington’s felony murder rule, all Wetle must prove is that the boy died in the course of second-degree criminal mistreatment – denying a child the “basic necessities of life.”
The prosecutor alleges in court documents that DeLeon severely stunted the growth of Tyler and S.M.M., who was three months Tyler’s senior, by strictly limiting their food and fluids.
DeLeon eventually adopted Tyler, who was placed under her foster care in May 1998, when he was 4 months old. S.M.M. was placed in DeLeon’s foster home, at 5608 McKenzie-Woolard Road, in July 2000 and was removed in October 2004.
Doctors’ records indicate both boys’ weight dropped below the fifth percentile among peers in both height and weight, but S.M.M. shot up to approximately the 95th percentile when removed from DeLeon’s home. Four months after S.M.M. left DeLeon’s home, he had gained 18 pounds and grown 2 1/2 inches, and Tyler had died.
Tyler remained at 25 to 30 pounds from his third birthday until his death four years later, when he was below the third percentile for weight, according to court documents.
Wetle alleges that DeLeon began limiting both boys’ fluid intake when S.M.M. suffered seizures that required his fluid intake to be monitored. He said she locked the bathroom door at night and installed a baby monitor to alert her if one of the boys tried to sneak a drink of water.
When the family camped at a Tum Tum resort in the summers of 2003 and 2004, Wetle wrote, a witness reported hearing Tyler and S.M.M. beating on the doors and windows of the family van up to three hours, shouting, “Water, water, I want some water.”
Wetle said another adopted son of DeLeon’s told investigators that DeLeon isolated Tyler and S.M.M. – requiring them to remain in their room or sit in one spot while she “spoiled” her other children, including three adopted daughters. All the children have been removed from DeLeon’s home, and Nielson ordered her not to have control over any children.
Court documents say DeLeon demanded that the staff of Lake Spokane Elementary in Suncrest cooperate in her restrictive regime for Tyler. School officials noted she failed to provide medical evidence to support her demands.
A school nurse reportedly got no response in October and December 2004 when she asked Tyler’s doctor whether the boy’s fluids should be restricted. Tyler died Jan. 13, 2005.
Defense attorney Carl Oreskovich hasn’t formally said whether he plans some form of an insanity defense, but Oreskovich told Superior Court Judge Al Nielson on Tuesday that he envisions calling numerous expert witnesses.
Tuesday’s court hearing, in which Nielson allowed Wetle to add the murder charge, left DeLeon’s trial date and other issues unresolved.
Wetle and Oreskovich agreed that the Oct. 2 trial date set in May for the criminal mistreatment charge isn’t realistic, but no new date was set.
Nielson’s imposition of a higher-than-requested $50,000 bail could be a factor in determining a new trial date.
Oreskovich asked for DeLeon to remain free on the $5,000 bail she posted in May, noting she has no criminal convictions and hasn’t missed a court date.
DeLeon and her parents, who live on the same rural property as she, have “limited means” to post a higher bail, Oreskovich said.
Wetle said bail often is $100,000 to $250,000 in murder cases, but he asked only $25,000 with a number of conditions, including that DeLeon surrender any passport and agree to waive her right to formal extradition if caught outside the state.
He hoped to ensure that DeLeon could post bail, which would give the court three months to bring her to trial instead of two.
However, Nielson gave DeLeon two days to post a $50,000 bond – which typically would require $5,000 in cash. If she fails to make bail, hearing dates set Tuesday will have to be reviewed next week. The tentative trial date would have to be moved forward unless DeLeon agrees to an extension.
Also undecided is whether the two counts will be tried together. Oreskovich wants separate trials; Wetle doesn’t.
Oreskovich said he wasn’t prepared Tuesday to argue the issue because he hasn’t received “discovery” information from Wetle on either charge.
“With new charges filed, there has been a lot more discovery that is being organized at this time,” Wetle said.