The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

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November 1, 2013

Child abuse nets 3 to 20 years on home confinement

BECKLEY — A 44-year-old Beckley woman was sentenced Wednesday to serve three to 20 years home incarceration after pleading guilty to child abuse and child neglect resulting in the serious bodily injury of her then 6-year-old daughter.

Sabrina Coronet-Smith, 44, was arrested in October 2010, along with co-defendant Amanda Wills, 33, also of Beckley, who was a roommate and guardian of the child. The two were charged with three felony counts of child abuse with substantial injury, child neglect with substantial risk of death and attempted murder of a child by refusal or failure to provide necessities.

Raleigh County Prosecuting Attorney Kristen Keller said the 6-year-old, referred to as M.S., was “on the verge of death.”

According to medical records, M.S. weighed only 19 pounds and her core body temperature was 80 degrees. Previous reports stated that her blood sugar reading was 2, and a normal reading is between 80 and 120.

M.S. reportedly had difficulty walking and was in and out of consciousness.

Keller noted that the plea agreement was offered to avoid calling M.S. and her siblings to the witness stand, and Coronet-Smith has lost rights to all six of her children.

She said there are “crates of medical records” at her office about this case and although the child’s physician had not reported abuse or neglect, the physician was planning to make a report.

Keller said Coronet-Smith offered various explanations about how M.S. had become so malnourished, such as her daughter suffering from cardiofaciocutaneous syndrome (CFC) and autism.

CFC is an extremely rare genetic disorder that causes multiple health issues, including skin abnormalities, delayed growth and heart malfunctions.

“Witnesses, the child and her siblings, would testify that they were deprived of food as punishment,” Keller said.

She said M.S. was also “cinched” into a car seat at night because Coronet-Smith was afraid she would aspirate on “stolen” food in the middle of the night.

This trend began while Coronet-Smith and Wills were living in Tennesee, where they locked M.S. in a utility closet in the basement at night to keep her from stealing food and choking on it, according to Tennessee authorities. Keller said Coronet-Smith still has pending charges there.

M.S. developed sores from sleeping in the car seat, Keller said, because the cushions had been removed.

M.S. has since been adopted and Keller said she is “thriving.” She is now at a normal weight, enrolled in school and doing well.

When Raleigh County Chief Circuit Court Judge H.L. Kirkpatrick asked Coronet-Smith if she was in fact guilty of these crimes, she replied, “No, sir.”

She explained that her daughter was born with a congenital heart disease and then diagnosed with CFC after genetic testing at age 2.

“She had difficulty gaining weight. She was born nine weeks early and she aspirated while she was in NICU. She had a tendency to choke on food and had to be monitored,” Coronet-Smith said.

She said she took her to the doctor frequently and if she had been given more instructions, she would have followed them.

She did admit not taking her daughter to the hospital one night she had fallen and complained that her “legs felt funny.”

“It appears you did what you thought was right based upon your daughter’s condition,” Kirkpatrick said.

“I thought she was OK, but it was bad judgment. I neglected her medically ... I should have found alternate ways of keeping her safe ... but I failed.”

Kirkpatrick described the events as “appalling” and “disturbing,” but he said that based on Coronet-Smith’s statement, the criminal element of the case was not satisfied, so he could not accept her guilty plea.

Public defender Joe Noggy asked Kirkpatrick for a brief recess to consult with his client. After a few minutes with Coronet-Smith, they returned to the courtroom, where Noggy said she admitted to not feeding her daughter properly and he believes there were sufficient facts to support conviction.

“Why is it that you didn’t feed her properly?” Kirkpatrick asked.

After a long pause with no response, Kirkpatrick added, “Was it part of a regimen you were holding to?”

“I simply did not give her enough food and calories for which to thrive,” Coronet-Smith replied.

She admitted that she mistreated her daughter and failed to take her to the hospital when she needed medical care.

“Can you explain to me why you did these things?” Kirkpatrick asked.

After another long pause, she said, “I don’t have an answer.”

She added, “It’s difficult to admit something so horrible ... I understand I’ve caused my daughter great harm ... I’ll live with the guilt for the rest of my life. I love my child dearly and I’m dearly sorry for wronging her.”

Kirkpatrick sentenced Coronet-Smith to serve two to 10 years in the penitentiary for child abuse resulting in serious bodily injury and one to 10 years for child neglect resulting in serious bodily injury, to be served consecutively. However, he suspended that sentence and gave her the alternate sentence of home confinement.

As per her plea agreement, she will not receive credit for time served. She has been on home confinement since 2010.

— E-mail: wholdren@register-herald.com

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