COLVILLE – The judge sentencing Carole Ann DeLeon faced a courtroom Friday divided between community outrage over the death of a little boy and an adoptive mother described by her supporters as a saint.
“I don’t remember a case, ever, that had the extremes … of facts and emotions and the positions of the different” parties, Superior Court Judge Al Nielson said. “But there is a betrayal of the sacred obligation that all parents have … to care for and provide the necessities of children. I do conclude that was recklessly disregarded.”
As a result, Nielson handed down the maximum six years in prison for DeLeon, who earlier pleaded guilty to criminally mistreating two boys in her care.
The plea agreement, reached last week, allowed her to avoid a potential life sentence had she gone to trial on the charge of homicide by abuse for the Jan. 13, 2005, death of her adopted son, Tyler DeLeon. Carole DeLeon, who was wearing an orange jail jumpsuit, wept as she spoke briefly about the boy who weighed only 28 pounds when he died on his seventh birthday.
“I’m so sorry that my little boy died and I miss him terribly,” she said. “But I know in my heart and my Lord knows the truth, and he knows that I did not harm any of my children.”
However, the 52-year-old former paralegal at the U.S. attorney’s office in Spokane did not find much sympathy Friday.
More than 20 people picketed outside the Stevens County Courthouse with signs calling for harsher punishment and a recall of Stevens County Prosecutor Tim Rasmussen. He agreed last week with defense attorney Carl Oreskovich to allow DeLeon to enter Alford pleas for the mistreatment charges, meaning that she didn’t accept guilt but acknowledged that she could have been convicted at trial.
“The children who lived with Carole DeLeon needed something. They needed justice,” Rasmussen said.
Through her attorney, DeLeon has said she intends to continue a legal fight to regain custody of four children she had previously adopted.
“Her refusal to let them go shows her lack of love for them,” Rasmussen said. “She is like the wicked woman before Solomon in the Bible who would rather have the child killed than give the child up.”
But Cynthia Owens told Nielson and about 80 people in the courtroom that she chose Carole DeLeon to adopt her daughter. Owens said she couldn’t have been happier with the results.
“I don’t want my daughter with anybody else,” said Owens, who wants DeLeon to again care for her daughter when DeLeon gets out of prison.
Owens blamed the abuse of Tyler on his biological mother, Kenda Bradford, who was sitting nearby. Bradford started reaching for Owens before she was restrained, and Owens was instructed by Nielson to speak only about her interactions with the defendant.
Carole DeLeon’s father, Joe Silva, described a daughter who was praised by child welfare officials for her willingness to take in troubled foster children.
“All of the sudden this happens with Ty. That child was not right. And the two of them together, they were something else,” Silva said of Tyler and Steven. “They couldn’t be treated in the same way because they were difficult children.
“She took care of them as best she could,” Silva continued. “Carole is not a bad person. As far as I’m concerned, she is a saint.”
But Patricia Markel, a court-appointed guardian for the children who were removed from DeLeon’s home, used the children’s own words to describe their feelings.
One adopted son, who is now living with another couple, described in a letter nightmares about DeLeon and how he started crying when he learned that DeLeon would someday be released from prison.
“I think it was not fair that Ty died and I want some justice for Ty,” Markel read from the boy’s letter. “He never got to go fishing and he never got to play baseball.
“When Ty first died, I was scared Carole would kill the rest of us kids. I don’t want to be known as Carole DeLeon’s son.”
Markel also described how the case has affected Tyler’s biological sister, who lived in the home and has since been placed elsewhere.
The sister “cries for her biological brother, Tyler,” said Markel, who wept as she spoke. “In her attempt, as a 6-year-old, to reconcile what happened to Tyler, she tells me Carole killed him. And she says Tyler is in heaven and when it rains the raindrops are his tears.”
DeLeon’s attorney, Oreskovich, spoke at length about the complicated medical evidence, which showed only that Tyler died of dehydration and not a pattern of torture through malnutrition as Rasmussen had claimed. He said DeLeon took Tyler on 34 visits to doctors and medical professionals before he died.
“This is not a monster you are sentencing,” Oreskovich told the judge as DeLeon cried. “This is a person who took care of difficult children. They would have challenged anyone with the best parenting skills.”
But Nielson didn’t agree, saying the remaining charges did not adequately address Tyler’s death. However, the judge also said his mind changed last week when the attorneys agreed they had insufficient evidence to prove the cause of Tyler’s death.
As a result, Nielson said he may have had to overturn a jury’s finding of guilt for murder. But he heard plenty of evidence to justify the mistreatment charges.
“I know this is not agreed to by the defense, but we have here two, or perhaps three, generations of children who were in some way or other mistreated in the home,” Nielson said. “It’s a cruel parenting strategy … that again was a type of ruthless discipline. I think it was this discipline that took over.”
As part of the sentencing, DeLeon was ordered not to have contact with Steven Miller or his adoptive mother, Fran Cudmore, or Tyler’s biological mother for a period of 10 years.
The other four children have existing no-contact orders until a dependency hearing can determine their permanent placements.
Seattle attorney Tim Tesh, whose firm is representing the families who have filed a combined $55 million worth of civil claims against the state for failing to stop the abuse, said DeLeon had an ability to fool medical professionals.
“These physicians should have stepped in,” Tesh said. “We intend to hold the medical professionals accountable as well for their failures.”