Seven years after an infant died, her Fresno foster mother took responsibility for the death and was sentenced on Friday to four years of probation.
Fearing she would go to jail, Jovannee Reynolds trembled before Judge James Oppliger announced her sentence in Fresno County Superior Court. Upon hearing the sentence, she and her supporters let out a sigh of relief.
Reynolds, 29, was initially charged with murder and assault causing the death of an infant identified in court papers as Jane Doe, but known as Mikayla Tabin. If convicted, Reynolds faced 25 years to life in prison.
But in May this year, Reynolds pleaded no contest to the lesser charge of involuntary manslaughter after defense experts said the infant likely suffered her fatal injury while in her mother’s womb, said defense attorney Curtis Sok.
The case began in September 2010 when Fresno police contended Mikayla was a victim of shaken-baby syndrome, a condition associated with brain damage from violent shaking. But Sok said in court on Friday that Reynolds never hurt the child. At most, she told police, she patted Mikayla on the back when the infant had trouble breathing.
Mikayla was born Aug. 25, 2010, and arrived at Reynolds’ home four or five days after birth after her biological mother, who had a long history of drug abuse, tested positive for methamphetamine.
Reynolds and her husband were new to the foster care system, receiving their license in July 1010. Their first foster child, a 3-year-old boy, was placed with them Aug. 9, 2010, county records show. Another child was placed with the couple Aug. 20, 2010, but returned to family members a few days later.
When Mikayla had trouble breathing, Reynolds took the infant to the hospital, where she remained for about two weeks before she died on Sept. 20, 2010, Sok said.
Reynolds was arrested March 17, 2011. Her husband was not arrested nor charged with a crime. After spending 20 days in jail, she was free on $200,000 bail.
On Friday, Sok told the judge that the case took seven years because it turned into a battle of medical experts – one who said Mikayla died of shaken-baby syndrome and two who suggested she suffered her fatal injury in her mother’s womb.
Sok asked for probation because Reynolds had no prior criminal history or arrests.
Prosecutor Christopher Gularte also wasn’t seeking a prison sentence; Reynolds, however, could serve time in jail.
Because of the conflicting medical opinions, Gularte told Oppliger that the prosecution could not prove the murder charge. Instead, Gularte said both sides settled on the manslaughter charge because of Reynolds’ admission to police about patting the baby on her back. In essence, her use of force in patting the child was more than a reasonable person would do.
After announcing the sentence, Oppliger reminded Reynolds that a baby died in her custody. He then told her that if she violates probation she will go to prison.