Mother pleads guilty, sentenced to 30 years for killing baby son

Social services left kids in care of abusive woman

January 29, 2004|By Allison Klein | Allison Klein,SUN STAFF

Keisha Carr pleaded guilty yesterday in Baltimore Circuit Court to second-degree murder and was sentenced to 30 years in prison for killing her 2-month- old son, David -- one of several recent cases that has shined a spotlight on the failure by the city's child welfare system to protect children in danger.

Prosecutors said David had 18 fractures to his ribs, as well as a crack in his skull and leg, and a hemorrhage of his spinal cord. His injuries occurred after city Department of Social Services officers were alerted that David's mother had previously broken the arms and legs of his older brother, James.

While in jail, Carr, 23, told a fellow inmate -- another mother who had significant contact with DSS, then killed her child -- that she had murdered David and that she planned to kill her next baby, according to a statement of facts read in court. At the time, Carr was pregnant.

The inmate, Sheila Avery, was convicted last year of killing her 5-year-old son, Travon Morris, by dunking him in scalding water. Avery told authorities that Carr was bragging in jail that she was going to avoid prison time, prosecutors said.

In August, Avery was sentenced to 20 years in prison at a hearing in which prosecutors said the system failed Travon by removing him from a safe foster home.

Assistant State's Attorney Julie Drake, who prosecuted both cases, said Avery contacted authorities because she didn't want Carr to get away with murder.

"She told Sheila Avery that she had deliberately injured David in an effort to get her husband's attention," Drake said during yesterday's hearing. "She also told Ms. Avery that she had injured her older child, James, in the same way for the same reason."

Carr, a ninth-grade dropout who suffered from mental problems, told police that David looked a lot like her husband, James, and that when she was angry at her husband, she would harm her baby, according to court records.

When David was killed in February last year, Carr was on probation for injuring James, and had been ordered by the juvenile court not to be alone with the child. The court made no such order for David.

"Why anyone would think she's an inappropriate and dangerous caretaker for James, but an acceptable and appropriate caretaker for David, is incomprehensible to me," Drake said after the hearing. "This case really illustrates all the problems child welfare advocates have been complaining about for years."

The number of children who die after entering the state's child protection system is unclear, although the city Health Department estimates that it may be as many as 10 a year.

A recent article in TheSun revealed that David Carr's death Feb. 12 in a West Baltimore rowhouse was in part the result of an overburdened Department of Social Services and juvenile courts that often fail to protect abused children in the city.

This week, Baltimore's top health official, Dr. Peter L. Beilenson, proposed that the state reform its troubled child protective system by stationing abuse caseworkers in hospitals 24 hours a day and acting more quickly to remove minors from dangerous homes.

Norris P. West, a spokesman for the state Department of Human Resources, which oversees the Department of Social Services, would not comment yesterday, other than to say of Keisha Carr, "the only thing we can say is we are always pleased to see justice done."

Carr's interaction with DSS began in January 2002, when she and her husband took 2-month-old James to Johns Hopkins Hospital, telling doctors they had noticed swelling in his left arm. An examination found that both of the baby's arms and legs had been broken.

In June of that year, Keisha Carr agreed to plead guilty to child abuse in exchange for a five-year suspended sentence and three years of probation. Two conditions imposed by the court were that Carr had to take parent classes and attend individual psychological counseling sessions.

Carr's husband said yesterday that after his wife was convicted of injuring their oldest child, he would see social service workers at the house "once in a blue moon."

"I think Social Services made a big mistake," James Carr said.

Carr dropped out of the psychological counseling in November 2002, and a health counselor called DSS to warn that Carr was having problems. That same month, social service workers visiting baby James concluded that he was underweight and malnourished. He was placed in the hospital, then returned home.

On Nov. 26, 2002, while Carr was on probation for abusing her first son, she gave birth to her second child, David A. Carr. By December, the juvenile court took James away from his parents, but he was soon allowed to return home.

Less than two months later, David Carr was dead.

Carr, who is on probation from her first child abuse case, now faces a violation of probation charge from city Circuit Court Judge Allen L. Schwait and a possible five-year sentence.

She gave birth to her third son, Michael, Dec. 20, and both he and his brother James are in foster care.

City Circuit Judge John M. Glynn, who gave Carr the maximum sentence under the law yesterday, called the case a "dreadful matter."

Drake, the prosecutor, said she was pleased with the plea agreement with one exception.

"Keisha Carr is young," Drake said. "Unfortunately, when she gets out on parole, she will likely still be of child-bearing age."

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