SLTrib: Eagle Mountain woman gets long prison term for 'heinous' child abuse

Eagle Mountain woman gets long prison term for 'heinous' child abuse
One nearly killed » Young niece and nephew were starved and beaten
By Stephen Hunt

The Salt Lake Tribune

Salt Lake Tribune
Updated:01/15/2009 04:10:45 PM MST


PROVO » An Eagle Mountain woman was sentenced Thursday to up to 20 years in prison for starving and physically abusing a young niece and nephew as a form of discipline.

Mary Matilda Heath tearfully expressed remorse and sorrow, telling 4th District Judge James Taylor there was "no possible way" she could justify the abuse.

Calling the crimes "heinous," the judge rejected a plea from Heath's attorney for leniency.

"The horror caused by these events is astounding," the judge said. "These children will face a lifetime of problems."

Heath, 33, had pleaded guilty to two second-degree felony and two third-degree felony counts of child abuse/neglect. Heath's live-in boyfriend, Sekoa Aiono, 37, is scheduled for sentencing next month on identical charges.

Aiono told police the couple let the children go hungry, beat them with a leather belt and locked them in bathrooms at their home for long periods, according to arrest documents.

The two were arrested Oct. 14 after a neighbor saw Heath's 9-year-old niece nearly naked in the couple's backyard.

The girl told police she had dropped from a window 12 feet off the ground to escape the bathroom she was locked in. Her 8-year-old brother was at first mistaken for dead when police found him in locked in another bathroom.

The children were hospitalized for nearly two weeks.

Deputy Utah County Attorney Tim Taylor said Thursday the children were "skin and bones ... like in Third World countries." But they are now living with a foster family and doing well. "They have gained weight and are going to school," he said.

Taylor said the children's mother -- a sister to Heath -- had, for unknown reasons, given custody of the children to her parents, who asked Heath and Aiono to raise them.

Defense attorney Ann Boyle said Heath didn't know how to care for the children, "who had been through trauma before they came to her."

Boyle said Heath found herself in "a very difficult situation ... trying to stop the children from harming themselves."

The two children, as well as a 4-year-old sibling who was not as malnourished or abused, had been living with the couple for about a year.

Taylor said the two older children were abused "for months," as evidenced by "multiple scars of different ages" on their backs, arms, legs and buttocks.

A doctor who examined the boy found injuries consistent with sexual abuse, according to a probable cause statement. But aggravated sexual abuse of a child charges were dropped in the plea deal. Prosecutor Taylor said there was insufficient evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that sexual abuse occurred.

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