Woodward, Okla. —
A 35-year-old area woman has been sentenced to 10 years in the Department of Corrections custody in connection with the abuse of her 5-year-old nephew.
Jessica Ann Rodriguez will serve 3 years in incarceration with the remaining 7 years as a suspended sentence under DOC supervision.
District Judge Ray Dean Linder made the ruling during a sentencing hearing at the Woodward County Courthouse on Thursday afternoon.
Rodriguez entered a blind plea of no contest in the case back in Dec. 2012, but sentencing was delayed to allow for a pre-sentence investigative report to be conducted by the Department of Corrections.
In addition to reviewing that report, which was completed and submitted to the judge in February, Linder also relied on testimony provided during Thursday's hearing as he made his sentencing determination.
That included testimony from Tammy Nebhut, an investigator with the Department of Human Services who removed the 5-year-old boy from Rodriguez's home following the abuse incident.
Nebhut testified the boy had been placed in his aunt's care, with her serving as a foster parent who had undergone DHS training, after the boy had been removed from his mother's care due to other incidents of abuse.
She then testified about how the boy came to be injured under Rodriguez's care, explaining the incident that occurred on May 26, 2011 that led up to 3 days of "heinous abuse" she said Rodriguez inflicted on the boy. The boy had placed a blanket over Rodriguez's 1-year-old niece, she said.
Nebhut said that Rodriguez's initial reaction to the blanket incident had been yelling at the boy about why he had did it.
"She told me that at one point it had got so intense that she had to remove herself from the room to collect herself and regroup," Nebhut said about Rodriguez's own comments about the incident.
"Then she went back into the room with (the boy) and asked him again, and when he didn't respond, she put him in bed, but then proceeded to wake him up every 15 minutes to continue to ask him why," Nebhut said. "Then on May 27th, she didn't allow him to eat. Other individuals in the home also said that he did not eat on that day."
Nebhut said Rodriguez also inflicted physical punishment on the boy.
"She hit and slapped him in the face causing multiple bloody noses," Nebhut said, noting that eventually "one of her own children became so worried about (the boy) that he brought in band-aids to try to stop the bleeding."
"After that point is when the 45-second video took place," she said, referring to a video that someone else in the home had filmed of the continuing abuse.
Nebhut testified that the video showed Rodriguez "grabbed (the boy) by the arms and stood directly in front of his face screaming why did he do it. (The boy) repeated 'I don't know. I don't know.' At that point she hit (the boy) on the underside of his chin, slapped him in the face, then grabbed him by the arms and picked him up and lay him on the ground, where she then stomped on his back in his bottom area, then turned him over slapped him in the face, hit him in the nose and then punched his face again."
Throughout this, Nebhut said the boy seemed "very scared," just repeating "over and over, 'I don't know, I don't know, I don't know,'" and didn't try to fight back.
It was after the video was taken that the boy, his sister, and 3 of Rodriguez's own children were removed from the home on May 28, 2011.
Nebhut testified that before the incident the boy had been "very talkative and active," always wanting to play, and "all around acting like a 5-year-old boy."
However, when she took the boy to the hospital after the attack on May 28, 2011, she said "his demeanor had changed."
"He just sat at the hospital holding his sister's hand and wouldn't answer any questions, wouldn't make eye contact, wouldn't smile," she said.
While at the hospital, she noticed injuries in the form of abrasions and bruises on his forehead, left check, left underside of his jaw, nose, right cheek and "multiple bruises up and down his arms, legs and body."
The boy was later placed in psychiatric inpatient treatment, making him one of the youngest children that Woodward County DHS has ever placed in such treatment, Nebhut said. As a result of the inpatient treatment, she said the boy was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, oppositional/defiant disorder, intermittent explosive disorder, and child victim of abuse and violent crime.
In addition, she said that while the boy is now in foster care, she doesn't believe that he will ever have any prospects for adoption.
Rodriguez's defense attorney Bart Bouse argued that the boy's PTSD and other disorders could have been a result of the previous abuse he had suffered and witnessed his siblings suffer at the hands of his own mother and step-father prior to being placed in his aunt's care.
Bouse also focused on the fact that none of the boy's bones had been broken and that "he didn't require any medical treatment beyond a Tylenol and Motrin for pain."
In trying to argue for a lesser sentence without any incarceration time for his client, Bouse also argued that the incident with her nephew was "a one-time thing" that occurred "while she was under stress."
"She reacted badly," he said.
He urged the judge to look at her "resumé," which said included a 12-year marriage, being gainfully employed for many years, owning her own home and vehicles, and becoming active in the First Assembly of God Church, as well as completing various counseling and training programs for anger management and parenting skills. The attorney noted that "resumé" is also lacking in any previous allegations of child abuse with her own or other children as well as lacking a criminal record beyond a single speeding ticket.
Furthermore, Bouse argued that incarcerating Rodriguez would not be fair to her own children, who would suffer without her being home with them. He also claimed it was not fair to incarcerate or punish Rodriguez any more than the boy's own mother had been punished.
The boy's mother Krystina Rodriguez pled no contest to child endangerment by permitting abuse in a separate case, in which one of her young daughters had been hit in the head with a hammer, and received one year incarceration for her sentence. With credit for time served while awaiting that sentence and good behavior, Bouse said the mother only served 261 days in the county jail.
"Jessica Rodriguez understands she is going to be punished, she has been punished and I'm sure the court will punish her some more, but we have to have fairness in the sentencing," Bouse said.
However, Judge Linder took offense to the defense attorney's comments.
"As to 'we have to have fairness,' how much fairness is it to eliminate the happy, carefree 5-year-old child to a child who now suffers from at least 3 disorders?" Linder said. "What fairness is there in the statement by a trained professional (with the Department of Human Services) that no, he will probably never be adopted in his lifetime. What kind of punishment is that to inflict on a 5-year-old boy?"
As for the punishment he outlined for Rodriguez, the judge said that he felt it was "necessary."
Linder said that the Department of Corrections "is not a good place to go, but it is necessary from time to time and this is one of those times."
Although Assistant District Attorney Chris Boring had requested a 25-year sentence for Rodriguez, he told The News following Thursday's hearing that his office "agrees with the judge's ruling and believe that it was just and fair ruling."
"We believe that (the boy) received justice today," Boring said.
The defense attorney didn't have any comment following the judgement. However, he said he doesn't believe his client will attempt to appeal the ruling since she had accepted responsibility and judgement by entering a blind plea in the case.
After the tearful Rodriguez was allowed to say goodbye to her family and other supporters who attended Thursday's hearing, she was arrested and taken down to the Woodward County Jail for booking.