SPRINGFIELD, Mo. -- A woman from Willard got a 15-year prison sentence with no probation for the death of a 9-month-old boy, Lucas Theede-Bennett, who was in her care in January 2009. Greene County Circuit Judge Calvin Holden sentenced Brenda Caringer in a packed courtroom on Friday afternoon after he found her guilty of child abuse resulting in death last November.
Holden issued his sentence after two hours of testimony from relatives of Lucas and Caringer's supporters, plus arguments from prosecutors and defense attorneys. Lucas' family talked about the agony of the last two years. Caringer also spoke but not directly to Lucas' family. She talked about her life in the county jail since her arrest.
Defense attorneys argued for a suspended prison sentence with probation. Prosecutors sought a 20-year sentence. The range of prison sentences for child abuse resulting in death is 10 to 30 years (life).
Prosecutors say Caringer will have to serve at least 85 percent of her sentence, or nearly 13 years, before being eligible for parole. Her time in the county jail likely will be deducted from her state prison sentence. Caringer broke down in tears after Holden issued his sentence.
Medical examiners say Lucas died on Jan. 6, 2009, after receiving a blow to his head that was equal to being dropped from one-story building's roof. They said Lucas would have stopped breathing soon after the blow. Prosecutors and police concluded Caringer had to be responsible because no other adult was in her home at the time.
Police said Caringer told more than one story about what happened to Lucas immediately after police arrived at her home and later after a helicopter ambulance took the boy to a hospital, where doctors could not save him. Holden said he discounted some of those conflicting statements because police should have told Caringer that she was free not to talk to them or incriminate herself.Holden said the bottom line is he believes Lucas was injured by a hard blow to his head shortly before Caringer called 911 to report Lucas wasn't breathing, and Caringer had to be responsible.
"The blow was not accidental but it was not delivered with intent to kill," Holden said when he gave his explanation for his verdict.Caringer waived her right to a trial by jury.