Judge Denies Motions In Meth Child Abuse Case; Trial Starts Next Week
A defense attorney unsuccessfully argued in Natrona County District Court on Tuesday that her client, who will go on trial next week on extreme child abuse charges, was not properly informed of her rights while being questioned by police.
Sarah Jacobs, who is representing Stephanie Shirts, also failed to persuade Judge Catherine Wilking that the prosecution should not be able to show evidence of a recent incident of abuse.
Shirts is charged with one count of aggravated child abuse punishable by up to 25 years in prison, four counts of child abuse with each count punishable by up to five years in prison, and four counts of child endangerment with methamphetamine, with each count punishable by up to five years in prison.
Shirts was arrested Sept. 17 after police were called to the Wyoming Medical Center for a report of a child with a significant head injury who was unresponsive, had hematomas in the head, and burns to the left rear area of the head.
The investigation determined that the child's mother, Bobbi Humphreys, left the child in Shirts’ care. While changing the baby’s diaper, Shirts put a blanket over the baby, whose face turned blue. Humphreys and Jason Cathcart, Shirts' boyfriend and owner of the house where the alleged crimes occurred, have pleaded guilty on lesser charges and are awaiting sentencing.
Tuesday, Jacobs told Wilking that District Attorney Mike Blonigen should not be allowed to introduce evidence that Shirts possibly bused a child several weeks earlier.
On Aug. 26, Blonigen said, a man saw Shirts at a convenience store filling her car with gas, screaming obscenities and hitting a child in the back seat. He called 911, and followed the Shirts to her home. A video camera at the convenience store also had recorded the scene, Blonigen said.
Another man saw Shirts "wailing" on the child.
Jacobs said that a police officer who conducted a welfare check at Shirts' house, she denied hitting the child and the officer did not file a case. The video from the convenience store was grainy, and the alleged incident was not related to the current criminal charges, she added.
Blonigen responded that just because the police did not file a report does not mean the incidence didn't happen and the witnesses' testimonies are invalid.
Wilking agreed, saying the alleged incident is similar to those in the criminal charges, it relates to Shirts' motives and intent in the criminal case, the time span between the two incidents isn't much, and the incident will not prejudice a jury.
Wilking then heard another motion from Jacobs who argued that Shirts' constitutional rights were violated when she was voluntarily taken to the police station about 10 p.m. Sept. 16 and stayed in an interview room until two officers began interviewing her about 7:50 a.m.
Jacobs said detectives Steven Nunn and Sarah Nelson interviewed Shirts more than nine hours after she may or may not have been sleeping. Shirts also may have been under the influence of methamphetamine.
Shirts did not understand her rights, she was scared, and she did not make her comments voluntarily, she added.
But Nelson said Shirts would not have been sleeping if she were high on meth. Shirts also understood her the time and place of her surroundings.
Blonigen argued the detectives did not violate Shirts' rights.
Wilking agreed. "Miranda was clearly given and the defenant's statements were voluntarily given," she said.