Recognizing signs of physical child abuse
The Caldwell woman accused of shaking a 4-month-old girl in 2017, causing a brain hemorrhage, will serve three to 10 years in prison.
Canyon County District Judge Gene Petty sentenced Kyla Vaughn, 29, on Monday after she pleaded guilty through an Alford plea to felony injury to child.
In an Alford plea, the suspect does not admit guilt, but acknowledges there is enough evidence for a jury to convict her.
Vaughn’s charges stem from an incident when she was babysitting a girl on Aug. 25, 2017. The Canyon County Sheriff’s Office investigated the case and said the girl had injuries caused by “intentional violent shaking or jerking or other intentional trauma.”
Authorities reported that Vaughn was babysitting the infant at her Caldwell home, while the girl’s parents – who lived in Parma – were out on a date. The child was vomiting when her parents picked her up from Vaughn’s home.
The baby’s mother took the girl to the hospital on Aug. 27, 2017, after her illness progressed, authorities say.
St. Luke’s pediatrician Dr. Matthew Cox testified at the sentencing, explaining that the infant in the case had extensive hemorrhages in both of her eyes. Cox, who has a sub-specialty in child abuse, said the hemorrhages in the girl’s eyes were likely caused by head trauma.
Cox said examinations of the victim found that all of the girl’s symptoms were caused by a new incident, meaning there was no evidence of old injuries.
Vaughn maintains she did not hurt the child, but accepted the plea agreement on the advice of her attorney. In exchange for her guilty plea, prosecutors dismissed an additional enhancement that Vaughn faced for infliction of great bodily injury, a charge that could have added another 20 years to her sentence if a jury convicted her.
As her voice shook and she choked back sobs, Vaughn told the judge “Your Honor, I am not the one who did this to this poor little girl.”
Canyon County Deputy Prosecutor Erica Kallin argued that all evidence suggested otherwise. She submitted Vaughn’s Google search history to the judge as evidence on Monday.
According to Kallin, before the baby had even been taken to the hospital, on Aug. 26, 2017, Vaughn searched “shaken baby syndrome” and “shaken baby syndrome criminal.”
The baby’s mother had reached back out to Vaughn on Aug. 26 because the baby was continuing to vomit. Kallin argued that it would have been more understandable if Vaughn had searched Google for terms such as “vomiting,” but the only reason to search “shaken baby” would be if Vaughn knew the girl had been shaken.
The doctor who examined the girl believed that the trauma must have occurred one to seven days before the child was examined on Aug. 29, 2017.
Defense attorney Jeff Nona repeatedly stressed during his argument that the exact time of the child’s injury remains unclear.
Vaughn denied shaking the child when asked by police. But when investigators interviewed Vaughn’s own child, who was at the Caldwell home while she was babysitting, the child admitted that he saw his mother shake the baby, according to police reports.
Kallin argued that Vaughn may be a good mother to her own four children, but the severity of the crime demanded a prison sentence. The prosecutor asked for four years of fixed prison time with six years indeterminate.
“She may be a great mother to her children, but that day she became a monster to (the baby),” Kallin said in court.
Nona presented three character witnesses on his client’s behalf in court. All of them were women who were family or friends who said they trusted Vaughn. They all testified that they would not hesitate to leave their own children in Vaughn’s care.
Nona said his client pleaded guilty through an Alford plea, in part because she does not believe she harmed the victim in the case.
“It’s possible, maybe, that something happened to this child before she was with my client,” Nona said in the courtroom.
The defense argued that the doctor who testified didn’t see the child the day of the alleged injury and that multiple people came in contact with the baby after she was with Vaughn.
He went on to say that he advised Vaughn to plead guilty through the Alford plea primarily because it would result in the sentencing enhancement being dismissed.
Nona said they made the decision to plead guilty because “there was a very real possibility of her going to prison for a ridiculously long period of time.”
He noted that Vaughn has no prior criminal history and is a low risk to re-offend.
Since Vaughn was charged, she has been separated from her own four children.
Judge Petty lifted the restraints on Vaughn communicating with her own children because he believes the abuse case was an isolated incident.
Petty listened to Vaughn speak about all of the children she has helped raise in her life and acknowledged that he does not see her as “a monster,” but could not dismiss the weight of her guilty plea.
“Ms. Vaughn, you plead guilty in this case and it is my duty to treat you as guilty,” Petty said in court.
The judge outlined that the infant in the case could have permanent and lasting vision problems and cognitive impairment as a result of the injuries.
“You haven’t really taken responsibility for your actions,” the judge told Vaughn. “You were given the opportunity and you have shown an unwillingness to admit responsibility.”
Given the extent of the infant’s injuries, Petty told her that “anything less than incarceration would diminish the seriousness” of the crime.
She was booked into Canyon County jail after the hearing.