Plea Deal in 3 Year Old Girl’s Death

Iowa Day Care Provider Avoids Life Sentence

Orange City, Iowa An Iowa woman admitted Thursday to causing the head injuries that killed a 3-year-old girl at her in-home day care, but avoided a life sentence under a plea agreement with prosecutors.

Rochelle Sapp of Orange City pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter and child endangerment resulting in the death of Autumn Elgersma. Sapp told the court that she dropped the toddler to the ground. She also entered an Alford plea to child endangerment with multiple acts, meaning she did not admit guilt to that charge but conceded there was enough evidence to convict her of injuring the girl three other times over the prior eight months.

Prosecutors dropped a first-degree murder charge, which would’ve been an automatic life sentence for Sapp. Second-degree murder would’ve required a minimum of 35 years behind bars.  Instead, Judge Edward Jacobson sentenced Sapp to an indeterminate sentence of up to 100 years as called for in the plea agreement. That means there is no mandatory minimum, and it will be up to the Iowa Board of Parole to decide when to release Sapp.

Drake University law professor Bob Rigg said Sapp, 34, will serve “significant time” behind bars but nowhere near 100 years. He said her actual sentence might be around 15 to 20 years, based on the board’s prior practice for similar offenses.  Rigg said Sapp received a “significant concession” when prosecutors didn’t pursue a murder charge. In turn, she gave them a major concession by admitting to other crimes and avoiding a trial.  Prosecutors made the plea agreement public Thursday after keeping it secret since its Oct. 10 signing.

The case dates to Oct. 29, 2013, when Sapp called Autumn’s mother to say the girl was out of it after falling down the stairs when she went to play in the basement. Autumn’s mother left work and took the girl to a nearby hospital, where doctors diagnosed her with serious head injuries and had her airlifted to a South Dakota hospital. Doctors discovered a fractured skull and serious brain trauma. The girl died two days later, and a medical examiner ruled it a homicide.

Court records show that after failing a polygraph, Sapp changed her story about the girl falling down the stairs and told a detective she slammed the toddler to the ground after becoming angry because Autumn was having trouble taking off her coat.  DayCareProviderDeath-2014-10-18-1Sapp had argued that confession — and incriminating text messages police discovered after she let them search her phone — should have been suppressed. She argued she had not been read her Miranda rights and had barely eaten or slept for two days.  But Jacobson ruled Thursday that the confession and her consent to the phone search were voluntary, and that investigators “treated the defendant quite well.”

 

Mom Charged In Alleged Horrific Child Abuse Case

Abusive Mother Tried To Sew Daughter’s Mouth Shut: Cops

The Huffington Post | By Sebastian Murdock
Pennsylvania authorities have arrested a 46-year-old woman on a litany of charges, accusing her of trying to sew her 16-year-old daughter’s mouth shut and eat cat litter, among other horrific acts.
Rana L. Cooper, a mother of seven children, has been the focus of an investigation that began at least six months ago. In a criminal complaint obtained by The Huffington Post, Cpl. Robert Copechal of the Pennsylvania State Police details a long list of abuses the teen suffered at the hands of her mother.
Authorities allege that the abuse may have started as soon as the child was adopted in 2008. Cooper’s husband, the adoptive father, was allegedly aware of at least some of the abuse. (Read the Criminal Complaint)

WARNING: GRAPHIC DETAILS OF ABUSE

The teenage victim told authorities that Cooper would not allow her to eat, drink, or even use the restroom until “points” were earned by cleaning the home. The victim alleged that because of this rule, she often soiled herself and did not drink for days.
The only time the girl could eat was after the rest of the family had already eaten, according to police. On multiple occasions, Cooper allegedly forced food into the chid’s mouth, inducing vomiting. In one instance, the suspect allegedly forced the child to eat cat litter. On another occasion, the victim told police Cooper would force her to “go into the bathroom and scrape her finger around the rim of the toilet and eat what was on her finger.”
The criminal complaint details more than a dozen instances of abuse. Cops allege that the mother once tried to sew the child’s mouth shut with a needle and thread, stopping only after piercing the child’s lower lip with a needle. Cooper often threatened to cut out the child’s tongue, police said.
If the victim did not listen to her parents, Cooper would forcefully jam a Q-tip into the teenager’s ear, causing it to bleed and leaving her partially deaf, the complaint reads. Cooper also allegedly attempted to gouge out the child’s eyes.
“Child states that mother was in her face and she closed her eyes tightly,” Copechal wrote in the report. “Child stated that mother took her finger and pushed in child’s eyes causing broken blood vessels in child’s eyes.”
Cooper allegedly hit the child numerous times with a hair brush, spit on her, and forced her to eat toothpaste. The child told police that she was allowed to eat once a day.

The police document also states:

Mother choked the child two times until child blacked out. Last time happened about a month before child was removed.
The child stated that father was present when mother was choking her. Child stated that father told mother to stop however mother did not. Child stated that father proceeded to just stand there and watch as mother continued to choke child.
The child’s father, 51-year-old Richard Cooper, told his wife he wanted a separation from her on Easter two years ago. Police said the mother blamed her adopted daughter for this. As punishment, Rana Cooper allegedly grabbed the girl by her neck and twisted it, then bit the child’s nose until it bled before slamming her onto the ground and punching her in the face.
In July, the victim told police her mother struck her in the face with a metal belt buckle, causing her eye to swell and become discolored.
One of the suspect’s seven children, 24-year-old Ronnie Cooper, told local station KDKA, that the allegations were all false.
“Nothing, none of that happened,” Ronnie Cooper said. “Like, I’m here every day, like, none of these [allegations] are true.”
In September, Rana Cooper admitted to police that she once submerged her daughter’s head under water “for approximately 3-10 seconds,” according to the complaint.
Cooper now faces charges including recklessly endangering another person, simple assault, and endangering the welfare of a child.  District court officials told the Star Tribune that Cooper does not have a lawyer on file.
HuffPost Crime called the Cooper residence, but no one in the family was willing to speak. Richard Cooper is not currently facing charges.  Rana Cooper has a preliminary hearing set for Nov. 6.
The child no longer lives with the Cooper family.

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