A foster mother was sentenced to 10 years deferred adjudication Thursday in a Harrison County courtroom for injuring an 18-month-old child in her care.
Michelle Lee Hayes, 44, pleaded guilty to the injury of a child charge, which stemmed from a May 2, 2017 incident in which she was accused of causing bruising, swelling and bleeding to the child’s brain.
71st Judicial District Judge Brad Morin assessed her punishment, which also included a $2,500 fine, 800 hours of community service and 30 days in the Harrison County Jail.
“You need to know what loss of freedom is like so you can have that in the back of your head,” Morin told Hayes, telling her to report to the county jail Friday morning.
The judge also barred her from alcohol, although it was unclear during the hearing whether it was a factor in the case.
“You need to remove it from your home,” Morin said.
At the urging of the state, Morin also added the condition of no contact with any children younger than age 17. This does not apply to her godchildren or relatives.
“You are not to volunteer or sign up for anything dealing with children,” he said, adding that means she can’t supervise children.
At the time of Hayes’ arrest, Shari Pulliam, a media specialist for Child Protective Services, said that Hayes was a brand new foster parent and the male toddler victim was one of three siblings that had just been placed in the Hayes’ home in early April. It was a new placement for the children and the Hayes.
According to an arrest affidavit, Hayes allegedly hurt the child on or about May 2 “by slamming his head against his crib causing bruising, swelling and bleeding in his brain; by squeezing his face causing bruising and swelling; by thumping his back causing bruising; and striking him with a spoon causing bruising.”
Police were alerted of the abuse after being dispatched to Christus Good Shepherd Medical Center Marshall for a child in the emergency department with significant injuries. The ER physician informed investigators that the child’s injuries were not consistent with what Hayes told the medical staff upon arrival with the child, officials said.
“The defendant initially stated that she had been at the City Park on Grove Street around 10:30 a.m. and the child fell from a play set, where he received his injuries,” the affidavit read.
The doctor told police that the child had a brain bleed and was being prepared for transport to Dallas Children’s Hospital.
Upon learning the information, investigators asked Hayes to accompany them to the police department for a voluntary, non-custodial interview. At the police department, Hayes told investigators that she had tripped and fell with the child around 1:30 a.m. on May 2, officials said.
“She said she was carrying the child and tripped and fell and said that she was intoxicated at the time,” the arrest affidavit said. “She said that during the fall, the child struck his head on a table at her residence.”
“Later, the defendant admitted that she slammed the child’s head into the side of his crib causing bruising to his head and face,” the affidavit said. “She also admitted that she squeezed his face, causing bruising to both of his cheeks and his chin.
“The defendant said that she squeezed his ears causing additional bruising,” the report said.
Pulliam said as soon as they learned of the injuries, CPS responded immediately removing all of the children from the home.
During Thursday’s hearing, the defense argued that the bruises were the result of a fall and temper tantrum. Defense attorney Kobby Warren, representing Hayes, requested probation in the case to give Hayes a chance of redemption while under the court’s supervision. Assistant District Attorney Madison Hood, representing the state, contended that the case was not probation worthy and asked the judge to give jail time.
“This is about trust and betraying trust,” said Hood.
“To be a foster parent is a big deal,” she argued. “You step up for a child that’s abused and neglected and vow to take care of them.”
Hood further argued that there’s a part of Hayes that her roomful of supporters in court, which included her church family, didn’t know.
“This type of person that can do this to this to this 18-month-old child...” Hood said.
“It’s very obvious that this was not an isolated incident,” Hood said, arguing that the doctor’s report indicated sores on the child’s feet and yellow bruises on the child’s back that appeared to be healing.
“The nails on his stomach ...the scratches, the scrapes, the squeezing of the ears (are all indications),” she said, noting he also had abrasions on his legs and brain swelling.
She said another doctor’s medical assessment noted that the medical findings are most consistent with repeated inflictions of a child that’s been physically abused. Hood said it’s not the result of a fall as the foster mother claimed.
“It’s just unexplained, unnecessary,” she said of the injuries. “There’s no way this was a one-time isolated event.”
Hood said people can be evil and she truly believes when CPS placed the children with the Hayes family that the agency had the best intentions. She argued that the child’s injuries were not caused by the child throwing his head back while having tantrums.
“He may have had some behavioral issues, but did he deserve this?” Hood asked.
She said the foster mother never inquired about the child’s welfare in her four-hour interview following the incident. Hood said the police officer also testified that there was no remorse shown from her at the hospital.
“This is not a probation case,” Hood said. “Everything she’s done she minimizes, but we got the evidence. You can’t get away from the evidence.
“You can’t get around these pictures,” Hood said.
“The defense is saying the injuries came from the fall and that’s just one huge, big accident,” said Hood. “That’s not what the evidence shows.”
Warren, representing the defendant, asked the judge to keep in mind that the child was released with instructions to take aspirin and follow up with a physician.
“Also take into account that even after the children went back into foster care, Mrs. Hayes says she still thinks about them, she still prays for them,” Warren said.
Warren additionally argued that while they were in court because of the poor actions of Hayes, sending her to prison wouldn’t deter anything.
“It’s not that kind of crime where (you need) to protect this person from the general public,” the defense attorney said. “That’s not Mrs. Hayes.”
Warren requested deferred adjudication.
“If you defer her for 10 years, you have the next 10 years (to) supervise her,” he said. “You can get her attention and still give her an opportunity, judge, to prove to you, her family and herself and her community that she can be (an asset).”
Giving his assessment, Judge Morin said upon his initial review of the case, he originally thought a prison sentence would be appropriate. Following Thursday’s hearing of all the evidence, he said he’s wavered from that.
“I believe you are a good person,” he told the defendant.
The judge said he does not believe the state’s position that it was a long-term chronic abuse situation.
If that was the case, “then I’d (hate) to believe that CPS and the CASA workers (that he appointed) weren’t doing their job,” Morin said, expounding on the fact that representatives from both groups frequented the Hayes’ home and gave good reports. They also testified that the child was no longer throwing fits and they felt the child was in a good environment.
Morin said that he further took into consideration what Warren, the defense attorney, asked which was “to look at the totality” of the case and not the one poor action.
He also took into account that the doctor’s report noted that the hemorrhaging had resolved and only instructed to take aspirin and follow up with a physician.
Because there was no plea agreement in the case, Hayes has a right to appeal. The judge warned Hayes that if she violates the terms of her probation, however, she’ll be looking to face a prison sentence up to 99 years or life and an optional fine of $10,000.