July 17, 2007 in City

Birth mother decries plea deal

Thomas Clouse Staff writer
 
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Kenda Bradford holds a photograph of her biological son Tyler DeLeon, who died of severe dehydration at age 7. Bradford says she wasn’t consulted before the offer of a plea deal that let Tyler’s foster mother, Carole DeLeon, avoid a murder trial.
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Tyler DeLeon’s biological mother said she wasn’t consulted last week when prosecutors agreed to a plea agreement allowing the boy’s adoptive mother to avoid a possible lifelong prison term.

Kenda Bradford, 28, of Spokane, said Monday that she will to travel to Colville to attend Carole DeLeon’s sentencing hearing Friday to see if she can do anything to stop the plea agreement from going forward.

“This … chick slowly killed my son, and she’s only getting 72 months? I waited two years for my son to get justice and that is not it,” said Bradford, who also had a daughter adopted by DeLeon. “That is not justice for him.”

Tyler weighed only 28 pounds when he died on Jan. 13, 2005, his seventh birthday.

Stevens County Prosecutor Tim Rasmussen earlier this year charged DeLeon, 52, with homicide by abuse, alleging that DeLeon essentially starved Tyler to death. But Rasmussen agreed Friday with defense attorney Carl Oreskovich to allow DeLeon to enter a plea that allowed her to avoid a murder trial scheduled for this week.

Instead, DeLeon entered an Alford plea to one count of criminal mistreatment in the first degree of Tyler.

She also entered an Alford plea to criminal mistreatment in the second degree for her care of Steven Miller, another boy who prosecutors alleged was severely malnourished by DeLeon. Four months after leaving her home, Steven had gained 18 pounds and grown 2½ inches, according to court records.

With Alford pleas, DeLeon does not admit guilt but acknowledges that she could be convicted at trial.

Rasmussen said he expects Superior Court Judge Al Nielson to sentence DeLeon to a combined 72 months, or six years, in prison at the hearing scheduled for 9 a.m. Friday in Colville.

As for Bradford’s concerns, Rasmussen said Stevens County Detective Jerry Taylor tried “desperately” to find Bradford in preparation for the trial but could not locate her.

“Our office takes into consideration the desires and feelings of persons who are injured, but the victims don’t control the process,” Rasmussen said. “The plea has been entered.”

Bradford gave birth to Tyler on Jan. 13, 1998. He was originally named Tyrel Lee Bruce-Lassiter. A young mother who wasn’t sure she could provide for him, Bradford put Tyler up for adoption, and the state placed him at the age of 4 months in the care of Carole DeLeon.

DeLeon, a former paralegal who worked in the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Spokane, adopted Tyler in 2000 and his name became DeLeon. She later told Tyler that Bradford was his biological mother and often allowed her to visit Tyler and her daughter, who never showed any signs of abuse.

“I thought she was really sweet at the time. She put on a hell of a front, like she was the perfect adopted mom,” Bradford said of DeLeon. “I thought she could give (Tyler) a better life. However, I see that’s not the case.”

Bradford saw bruises and scratches and asked DeLeon about them. “I (didn’t) have the means to put an investigation on her, so I had to go by what she said. But (Child Protective Services) had the means to do an intensive investigation and they didn’t,” Bradford said.

According to state records, CPS investigators had more than a dozen referrals regarding Tyler and never determined that he had been a victim of abuse.

Rasmussen said Friday, and reiterated Monday, that he considered all sides before entering the plea.

“I sat through interviews with children where the tears were streaming down their faces at the prospects of testifying … and their fear of being in the presence of Carole DeLeon. I sat through tearful interviews with teachers who had to relive their experiences with Ty,” he said. “This case was an emotional case and I looked at it without the emotion and saw the difficulties of proof.”

Since the autopsy determined Tyler died from severe dehydration, Rasmussen said he had trouble connecting the cause of death to DeLeon’s actions. And even if a jury had convicted DeLeon of the lesser charges of second-degree murder or first-degree manslaughter, the decision would have been tied up in the courts for years through appeals, he said.

“Weighing the risk of the closure for the chance of more punishment did not seem worth it,” he said.

Pamela Reed, who is Bradford’s mother, said she understands that testimony would have been difficult on the other children but she believed a trial was justified.

“I just think she took the lesser charges so she wouldn’t have to spend her life in prison,” Reed said of DeLeon. “That was six years she tortured my grandson. She deserves more than six years. The family is not happy.”

But the sentencing Friday is the end only of the criminal side of the case. The families of five children who were in DeLeon’s care, including Tyler’s biological family, have filed a combined $55 million worth of civil claims against the state for failing to stop the abuse.

“Just because Carole DeLeon has pleaded guilty, and that chapter in this tragedy is about to close, does not mean that any of the other defendants in our civil case are out of the woods,” said Seattle attorney Tim Tesh, whose firm is representing some of the families.

“Their day in court is yet to come.”


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