Crime

Mother accused of drowning son in a ditch would have been on probation. Here’s why she wasn’t

Left: Sherri Renee Telnas appears in a court in Montana in 2008 during a trial where she was accused of attempting to drown her 10-month-old son. Right: Telnas was arrested and is accused of killing her son, now 12, in Tulare County.
Left: Sherri Renee Telnas appears in a court in Montana in 2008 during a trial where she was accused of attempting to drown her 10-month-old son. Right: Telnas was arrested and is accused of killing her son, now 12, in Tulare County. Daily Inter Lake/Tulare County Sheriff's Office

Sherri Renee Telnas, who is charged with murdering her son and severely injuring another, had been released from state supervision nearly five years ago after she was convicted of an almost similar crime in Montana.

Telnas would have been supervised by the Montana Department of Health and Human Services at the time she allegedly drowned her son and left a younger boy critically injured on June 29. Except, that 20-year sentence ended just six years in.

Court documents obtained from Mineral County, Montana, show parole officer Gloria Soja made the recommendation to Judge Edward McLean to have Telnas released early. Soja reportedly recommended it was in the best interest to release Telnas from probation, which should have lasted until 2027.

“It will not present an unreasonable risk of danger to the victim of the offense,” a statement reads in the document.

The victim referenced in the document was Jackson Telnas. At 10 months old, he had been nearly drowned in 2008 by Telnas at a Montana river. She pleaded guilty to two counts of criminal endangerment a year later; it was a plea agreement that kept her from possibly going to prison for life.

California authorities say Telnas drowned 12-year-old Jackson on June 29 in an irrigation ditch near Porterville and left her other son, 7-year-old Jacob Ray, near-death in the same ditch.

Telnas moved with her boys to Tulare County in October 2012, according to the Montana court documents, which detail how her supervision was transferred to California authorities. Originally, she had been ordered to serve two consecutive 10-year probation sentences under the eye of the Montana Department of Health and Human Services.

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From left: Jacob Telnas and his two sons Jacob Ray and Jackson with their grandmother Diana. GoFundMe Ellie Brown

A California probation officer reported to Montana officials in 2014 that Telnas had completed a substance abuse program and continued to attend mental health appointments, which were conditions under her sentence.

That report appeared to be enough for Montana officials.

Telnas was discharged from probation supervision in 2014. She had been in communication with her husband while she lived in California. But the two were divorced and Telnas had custody of the children.

New crimes alleged

Telnas appeared at the South County Justice Center in Porterville on Wednesday morning, where she pleaded not guilty to four charges related to the June 29 death of her oldest son.

Tulare County Sheriff’s deputies were dispatched to the Telnas’ rural home northwest of Porterville after getting a call around 5:30 a.m. that Telnas, 45, had taken her sons to a corn field across the street from their home.

When deputies arrived they found the boys unconscious in the irrigation canal. Jackson was taken to a local hospital where he later died. Jacob Ray is fighting for his life at Valley Children’s Hospital in Madera.

On Tuesday, the Tulare County District Attorney’s Office filed charges against Telnas, including murder and attempted murder, battery on a peace officer and gassing, which involves throwing feces or bodily fluids at someone.

The DA’s office said Telnas faces a maximum sentence of life in prison with possibility of parole or the death penalty if she is convicted on all charges.

Telnas will be back in court on Aug. 15 for a preliminary hearing.

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Cresencio Rodriguez-Delgado is a general assignment reporter at The Fresno Bee. He grew up in Porterville and has a bachelor’s degree in print journalism from Fresno State. He is a former student editor at the Fresno State and Fresno City College newspapers. His hobbies include reading, sleeping, running and taking care of his dog.
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