Utah woman gets prison term in death of disabled adult
A Kearns woman was sentenced Friday to five years to life in prison for ignoring abuse that eventually killed a mentally disabled woman living in her home.
A jury convicted Sherrie Lynn Beckering, 51, in September of one count of first-degree felony aggravated abuse of a disabled adult stemming from the March 2011 death of 22-year-old Christina Harms.
"I failed to protect Christinaâ¦I'm never going to be able to forgive myself for this, ever," Beckering said as she wept before being sentenced by 3rd District Judge Katie Bernard.
When Harms, who had fetal alcohol syndrome, was found dead on the floor of the family's home in Kearns, she had bruises on her body, bandages wrapped tightly around her arms and fingers, and a pepper seed stuck under one eyelid. Police and prosecutors say the adults would bind Harms' limbs with zip ties and keep her tied to a bar in a closet.
The closet had an alarm system and a knife was stuck in the door to prevent Harms from escaping. Inside the closet was a piece of cardboard with remnants of human feces, scented pine cones and a sketch of Jesus Christ, officials have said.
An autopsy found Harms was severely dehydrated and had potentially fatal levels of Benadryl or a similar drug in her system.
Beckering's attorney, David Berceau, told Bernard at the sentencing that Beckering loved Harms, did not know the abuse was happening and has a spotless record "not even a parking ticket." He implored the judge to send his client to a halfway house, or some alternative to prison.
But before handing down the sentence, Bernard held up a photograph of Harms, happy and apparently healthy, in stark contrast to the broken and emaciated woman found in the closet.
"I can't believe this happened in a day or two," Bernard said.
As he left the courtroom, Berceau said his client is distraught about the reality of going to prison. The jury got it wrong, Berceau said, adding that Beckering intends to appeal her sentence.
But prosecutor Chad Platt believes justice was served, speaking on behalf of Harms' family and friends, who could not attend the sentencing.
"She had to know. Anybody would have known," he said.
Beckering was one of three people prosecutors charged last year in connection with Harms' death. Cassandra Marie Shepard, 28, was Harms' legal guardian, and faces a murder charge. Beckering and her husband, Dale Beckering, were each charged with abuse of a vulnerable adult.
A jury convicted Dale Beckering in February. He is serving a sentence of up to 15 years in prison.
Shepard's trial is scheduled to begin next year.