County woman headed to prison for infant’s injury

Published 12:07 pm Friday, December 17, 2010

A Vicksburg woman who pleaded no-contest last month to charges that she injured her 19-day-old baby will go to state prison for eight years, a judge ordered Thursday as he cited a previous case in which a child in her care had been injured.

Kristen Elizabeth Walter, 26, 7094 Oak Ridge Road, admitted at her pre-sentencing hearing Dec. 3 that she was under the influence of methamphetamine on July 5, 2009, when she caused the injuries to her baby girl that included twist fractures of the arm and leg, a skull fracture and bruising.

She pleaded no-contest to the charges on Nov. 19.

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“This is a difficult case,” Circuit Judge Isadore Patrick said Thursday, adding that in trying to determine a fair sentence for Walter he had to look not just at the facts of her life but also at her baby’s.

“I believe you have some issues,” he said, citing a history of drug abuse and possible mental illness. “But I am concerned that this was not the first incident. It was the second time a child in your care had been injured and hurt. That is disturbing.”

Less than two years ago, Walter lost custody of another daughter, then 18-months-old, while living in the New Orleans area, according to information disclosed at the pre-sentencing hearing. Louisiana authorities removed from her care the child, now 3 and being raised by adoptive parents.

The details of that case were not available.

A third baby, court records showed, was given up for adoption by Walter when she was a teenager.

On Thursday, Patrick sentenced Walter to 20 years in prison but suspended 12. He said he would require her to receive psychological counseling during her imprisonment and to undergo drug and alcohol treatment.

When she is released from prison, she will not be allowed to have contact with her child unless the guardians allow it, Patrick ruled.

Walter cried and covered her face with her hands after hearing the sentence. Her attorney, John Bullard, held her shoulders and spoke quietly in her ear for a few seconds before she was led back to the Warren County Jail en route to the Central Mississippi Correctional Facility in Pearl.

The baby, now about 18 months old, is healthy and in the care of family members on the father’s side. She shows no effects of the abuse that required her to be admitted to University Medical Center in Jackson for three days, said District Attorney Ricky Smith.

Walter was arrested shortly after taking the baby to the emergency room at River Region Medical Center. She initially told doctors she was holding the baby when she tripped over a threshold in her home and fell, landing on the infant, but doctors found the baby’s injuries could not have happened with such a fall.

River Region doctors notified the Warren County Sheriff’s Office of the baby’s injuries, and the Mississippi Department of Human Services took custody of the baby, who was transferred to UMC and the Children’s Justice Center, where Dr. Scott Benton, a forensic expert in child abuse, determined that the arm and leg fractures were “spiral fractures,” likely caused by twisting, Smith said.

It is not known how the skull fracture occurred, he said.

The DA agreed that the case was troubling.

“We can understand the defendant has had some difficulties in her life, but this was a 19-day-old child whose life was counted in hours who suffered severe injuries in her hands,” Smith said. “We think that the court’s decision to require prison time is just.”

At Walter’s presentencing hearing, it was disclosed that she was raised in an adoptive family and began to use drugs around the age of 12. Walter had no previous felony arrests in Warren County, Smith said, but had been charged in Louisiana with giving a false name and identification to a police officer. She also initially gave false identification when arrested on the child-abuse charges, Smith said.