COLVILLE – A foster mother under criminal investigation for the death of her 7-year-old son acknowledged Monday in a civil proceeding that the state has enough evidence that a court likely would find her temporarily incapable of caring for her four other children.
In a rare legal agreement, Carole Ann DeLeon denied the state’s allegations of abuse and neglect but admitted that the children are “dependent” on the state. State law says that “dependent” children have been abused or neglected, or have no parent or guardian capable of caring for them.
Attorney Carl Oreskovich said DeLeon’s decision was similar to an Alford plea, in which the defendant in a criminal case does not admit guilt but concedes significant evidence exists for the prosecution to likely win.
“We’ve agreed that the children are dependent on the state,” Oreskovich said. “We deny the allegations in the dependency and frankly have been preparing hard to defend this.”
If the dependency hearing had proceeded, the state planned to call DeLeon, a 51-year-old former paralegal, to the stand, as well as dozens of other witnesses in the high-profile case.
In January, the state’s Children’s Administration acknowledged that it failed to protect Tyler DeLeon despite numerous warnings from teachers and suspicions about his injuries.
Tyler died Jan. 13, 2005 – his seventh birthday. He weighed 28 pounds, and his official cause of death was listed as dehydration. The Stevens County Sheriff’s Office has forwarded a homicide-by-abuse case to Stevens County Prosecutor Jerry Wetle, but no charges have been filed.
Wetle did not return a phone call on Monday, but has said the case remains under investigation.
“There is a threat of a criminal prosecution, which puts us in an awful bind,” Oreskovich said, after the hearing. “I can’t in good conscience put my client on the witness stand to defend against these allegations at this time, and I also don’t want to display the weakness of the case to the prosecution.”
DeLeon sat quietly by Oreskovich, but told the judge she understood the order. After the hearing, she left in tears, escorted by her father, Joe Silva.
In the internal report to Child Protective Services last year, a prominent Seattle pediatrician found that DeLeon placed “strict limitations” on Tyler’s food and water intake, including the placing of an alarm on the boy’s door to prevent him from going to the bathroom to get a drink of water.
According to the report, DeLeon allegedly told a school teacher that “If I ever started beating (Tyler) he would be dead because I wouldn’t be able to stop.”
In 1988, state workers removed a 12-year-old girl from DeLeon’s care after she allegedly bound the girl’s wrists, tied her up in the basement and repeatedly denied her access to food and water.
The foster child, now in her early 30s, contacted The Spokesman-Review late last year and said in an e-mail that her memories of abuse are “vivid.”
The woman, who asked not to be identified, wrote on Dec. 30, 2005, that she was “not in shock that (DeLeon) did this. I’m in shock that they let her have more children after I was taken from the home. I feel justice will be served in this case.”
DeLeon received a foster-care license in 1996 after the state’s Child Protective Services destroyed the 1988 records as part of a routine expungement of old files, officials said.
Under the agreement reached on Monday, DeLeon will retain visitation rights to the four children. State officials said they could not disclose where the children are living.
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