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Appeals Court Affirms Life Sentence in Child Abuse Death

06-May-2013

The Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals last week affirmed the life sentence of an Oklahoma City woman convicted in the child abuse death of her 3-year-old son. Tye N. Shafer, 27, argued in her appeal that a life sentence was excessive, but the appeals court rejected Shafer's claim.

Shafer was found guilty of first degree murder in 2011 for the death of her son, Eli Kevin Johnson, in 2009. She was also convicted of two counts of enabling child abuse, for which she received prison sentences of 1 and 3 years, respectively, and to one count of child neglect, for which she was sentenced to 7 years in prison.

Shafer's boyfriend, Eddie E. Valdez, pleaded guilty to first degree murder and admitted to beating Eli on the day of his death. He was sentenced to life in prison without parole. Valdez said he became irate when Eli wet his pants and he punched the child in the stomach and then "blacked out," coming to when the child's head was in the toilet. He said he then made the boy do a "time-out" in which he forced the child to stand on his tiptoes at the edge of a table with his hands behind his back. When the child was too weak to stand, he fell face first onto the floor four feet below. Valdez became enraged that Eli would not do the "time out" correctly and "held him out and dropped him at least two times." 

Shafer was present during the abuse but said she had taken a Lortab and didn't realize how serious the beating was. She did say she noticed Eli was "screaming and crying more than usual."

Tye Shafer said that Valdez had beat her son before, but that she loved him and thought she would change. Prosecutors alleged that Shafer was culpable in her son's death because she knew Valdez was abusive and failed to protect her child. Furthermore, the jury noted that Shafer knew her son was seriously injured but failed to seek medical attention for him for more than 5 hours, only taking him to the hospital after he collapsed. He died a short time later.

In Oklahoma, child abuse and enabling child abuse are treated as equivalent crimes. The parent or guardian is legally responsible for protecting his or her child. Allowing a child to be abused or placing a child in a situation in which he or she is likely to be abused is harshly penalized under the state criminal code:

21 O.S. § 843.5 (B) - Any parent or other person who shall willfully or maliciously engage in enabling child abuse shall, upon conviction, be punished by imprisonment in the custody of the Department of Corrections not exceeding life imprisonment, or by imprisonment in a county jail not exceeding one (1) year, or by a fine of not less than Five Hundred Dollars ($500.00) nor more than Five Thousand Dollars ($5,000.00) or both such fine and imprisonment. As used in this subsection, "enabling child abuse" means the causing, procuring or permitting of a willful or malicious act of child abuse, as defined by paragraph 2 of Section 1-1-105 of Title 10A of the Oklahoma Statutes, of a child under eighteen (18) years of age by another. As used in this subsection, "permit" means to authorize or allow for the care of a child by an individual when the person authorizing or allowing such care knows or reasonably should know that the child will be placed at risk of abuse as proscribed by this subsection.

The maximum penalties of life in prison and a fine of $5,000 for enabling child abuse are the same as those levied against the physical abuser. If you stand by and allow someone to abuse a child, you may be convicted of enabling child abuse and you will likely be treated harshly as the person you allow to harm the child.




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