Prosecutors and defense attorneys reached a plea agreement in the case of Victoria Phanhtharath, 25, who was accused of first degree murder and enabling child abuse in the 2011 death of her 3-year-old daughter, Alexis Hawkins.
Phanhtharath, who was 23 at the time of her daughter's death, pleaded guilty to enabling child abuse and murder (read more here) and agreed to testify against her boyfriend, Freddy Mendez, 25, who was also charged in the girl's death. Phanhtharath was sentenced to life in prison with all but the first thirty five years suspended.
On October 30, 2011, physicians at Children's Hospital at OU Medical Center in Oklahoma City notified police and the Oklahoma Department of Human Services (DHS) that a child was brought to their facility with injuries consistent with abuse, and that the toddler was not expected to survive her injuries. Alexis died the following morning.
Suspected Child Abuse
A DHS report showed that the family had been investigated for the suspected abuse of Alexis twice prior to her death, with the second reported incident occurring just four days before her fatal injuries were inflicted. According to a report by the Oklahoma Commission on Children and Youth Office of Juvenile System Oversight released pursuant to Title 10A, Section 1-6-105, B, D, and E, of the Oklahoma Statutes, Victoria Phanhtharath had been previously accused of child abuse, and she provided conflicting statements about the incidents leading to Alexis's death:
- October 27, 2009 - Oklahoma DHS received its first report about suspected abuse of Alexis Hawkins. A caller said that Phanhtharath had placed a pillow over the face of one-year-old Alexis three different times while the child was crying, interfering with the child's breathing. The caller also reported that Alexis had scratches and bruising on her face about three weeks prior. Phanhtharath told investigators that during a domestic violence incident several months earlier, Alexis's biological father had hit Phanhtharath in the face, breaking her nose. She said that she picked up a pillow to staunch the bleeding, and that she also picked up the crying child to comfort her, which placed the child's face near the pillow. The father told authorities that he had lost his temper and struck the mother, but that he did not remember where he hit her. He said that he remembered seeing blood and seeing Victoria place a pillow over Alexis's face. The biological father was arrested and ordered to 52 weeks of domestic violence counseling.
- October 26, 2011 - DHS received a report that Victoria Phanhtharath was "stressed" and "taking it out on" Alexis. DHS investigators attempted to initiate face to face contact with the child but failed to do so that day and again on the subsequent day.
- October 30, 2011 - DHS received a third report of abuse, which stated that 3-year-old Alexis had sustained numerous and critical blunt force injuries, including significant head trauma, and that she was not expected to survive her injuries. Initially, Victoria Phanhtharath told investigators that Alexis had been choking, and she attempted CPR. Freddy Mendez said that the child had fallen down the stairs on October 26--the date of the second DHS report. Later, Phanhtharath said that she shoved the girl in frustration, causing her to strike her head on a wooden baby bed. Freddy Mendez also changed his story, admitting that he had become angry when Alexis wouldn't eat and hit her with a leather sandal, choking her, and "slamming her down."
A seven-month-old infant, the biological child of Freddy Mendez and Victoria Phanhtharath was taken from the home and placed into DHS custody. DHS recommended that the parental rights of both Mendez and Phanhtharath be terminated.
As part of her plea agreement, Victoria Phanhtharath agreed to testify that Mendez was responsible for Alexis's fatal injuries, sticking to her testimony during a jail interview a few weeks after Alexis's death. She says that Mendez picked up the toddler and threw her to the ground hard enough that "the back of her head bounced" before punching and kicking the girl. Phanhtharath told investigators that she lied to cover up the actions of Mendez, who she says beat her and her daughter regularly.
Child Abuse Laws in Oklahoma
Oklahoma has a nefarious track record for failing to protect children from their abusers, and the Oklahoma Department of Human Services has been under pressure to make improvements. DHS is required to check into reports of child abuse and to act on substantiated claims. If you have been accused of child abuse or enabling child abuse, you need skillful defense to protect against inflated or unwarranted charges. To find a child abuse defense lawyer in Oklahoma, click here to submit a confidential case review form.