Casper infant abuse trial begins Monday

Child Abuse
Stephanie Shirts

Casper, Wyoming – The trial of a woman accused of burning a 14-month-old girl’s face with a hot pan last year is scheduled to begin Monday.

Attorneys are expected to begin questioning potential jurors who will hear the case against Stephanie Shirts, the 25-year-old woman accused of rolling a saucepan on an infant’s face and shaking the baby with enough force to require trauma care. The trial will be held in Natrona County District Court.

Authorities also accuse Shirts of suffocating the girl with a blanket. The infant was taken in September by helicopter to the children’s hospital in Aurora, Colorado, with a brain bleed and bleeding in the eyes.

Shirts was charged Sept. 18 with four counts of child abuse, four counts of child endangerment with methamphetamine and one count of aggravated child abuse. She faces 65 years in prison if convicted on all charges.

Shirts and her attorney, Sarah Jacobs, unsuccessfully attempted to postpone the trial. Jacobs questioned the Casper Police Department’s handling of her client’s interrogation, claiming Shirts was detained without being properly advised of her Miranda rights.

Natrona County District Judge Catherine Wilking ruled last week that Shirts received a proper Miranda warning and acted voluntarily. Wilking denied a motion to further delay Shirts’ trial in order to hear more expert testimony.

Wilking also ruled prosecutors can introduce past evidence of child abuse by Shirts. Natrona County District Attorney Mike Blonigen presented evidence Tuesday suggesting that Shirts, sometime before the burning allegations, repeatedly struck a small child at a Casper convenience store.

The child was reportedly buckled in a car seat in the back seat of Shirts’ car. The Aug. 26 incident was reported by two witnesses and caught on store surveillance cameras. Although Casper police officers investigated the report, no arrests were made.

Shirts’ trial was originally set to begin on Feb. 2. Wilking reluctantly delayed the trial after Shirts requested Jacobs replace the public defender initially appointed to represent her.

The infant’s mother, Bobbi Humphreys, pleaded guilty last month to two counts of felony child endangerment with methamphetamine and one count of misdemeanor child endangering. Prosecutors recommended she serve two to five years in the Wyoming Women’s Center.

Jason Cathcart, 37, who lived with Shirts and Humphreys, pleaded guilty last month to possessing methamphetamine and endangering the children who lived with him. Prosecutors said they will recommend Cathcart be sentenced to four to five years in prison.

The three adults admitted to smoking methamphetamine in their home on South Fairdale Avenue on the morning the infant was taken to the hospital. Humphreys allegedly left the 14-month-old in her playpen while she went to Wal-Mart.

Cathcart and Shirts heard the baby crying and took her out of the playpen to change her diaper. Shirts said she put a blanket over the child’s face because she wouldn’t quit crying.

The child quit breathing and turned blue, Shirts told police. She gave the baby CPR, and the infant started breathing again.  Humphreys arrived home shortly after and took the baby to the hospital.

Authorities searched the home and found synthetic marijuana and meth.

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