Mother pleads guilty to abuse of baby Infant had fractured skull, broken ribs, was anemic

January 16, 1998|By Tanya Jones | Tanya Jones,SUN STAFF

A 23-year-old mother pleaded guilty yesterday to shaking, squeezing and hitting her infant daughter so hard during the first three months of her life that the baby suffered a fractured skull, broken ribs and shaken-baby syndrome.

Valerie Renee Sutphin, who lives in Texas with her husband, could be sentenced to 15 years in prison for child abuse when she returns for sentencing April 3.

Sutphin said little during the morning hearing before Anne Arundel Circuit Judge Clayton R. Greene Jr. But the former Annapolis resident cried when a county prosecutor told the judge that Sutphin did not visit her daughter when the baby was transferred from Anne Arundel Medical Center to the intensive-care unit at Johns Hopkins Hospital in May.

Sutphin and her husband, Shannon C. Sutphin, took their 3-month-old daughter, Gabrielle, to Anne Arundel Medical Center on May 3 after he noticed swelling and bruising on the girl's head, according to testimony yesterday.

Hospital officials called the Annapolis police when the medical staff found the baby had internal bleeding and bruising, including old bruises on her head, and was anemic, said Laura S. Kiessling, assistant state's attorney.

The baby's injuries were so severe that she was transferred to Hopkins, said Kiessling, reading from an agreed-on statement of facts. While Mr. Sutphin's parents followed the baby to Hopkins, he and his wife went home to "get some sleep," Kiessling said.

A child-abuse expert at Hopkins said the baby's fractured skull and two healing rib fractures could have been caused only by abuse, Kiessling said.

Valerie Sutphin told police she couldn't cope with the baby's crying and first struck her when she was 6 weeks old, Kiessling said. Sutphin also admitted throwing the baby into a baby swing and shaking or squeezing her, the prosecutor said.

Sutphin was abused as a child, and that, along with the stress of a fussy baby, another small child and pain from tubal-ligation surgery might have contributed to her actions, said Assistant Public Defender Carroll L. McCabe.

The Sutphins moved to Dallas several months ago when Mr. Sutphin, who has a job in retailing, was transferred, McCabe said. They gave up custody of the baby and their 2-year-old son to Shannon Sutphin's parents.

"People were not noticing" the abuse to Gabrielle because the Sutphins kept to themselves, Kiessling said after the hearing. "The grandparents were actually rarely permitted to see the children."

Kiessling said prosecutors will ask for a prison term at the sentencing. McCabe said she would ask that Sutphin not be given time behind bars.

"She dearly, dearly loved her children, but she couldn't cope," McCabe said.

Pub Date: 1/16/98

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