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October 11, 2012

You be the sentencing judge: what is a fitting sentence for abusive "Super Glue" mom?

This AP article, headlined "Mom Who Glued Toddler's Hands Faces Sentencing," reports an on-going sentencing proceeding in Texas state court. The story prompts the challenge in the title of this post and my broader interest in readers' sentencing instincts in response to a high-profile case of child abuse:

A mother who admitted to beating her 2-year-old daughter and gluing the child's hands faces anything from probation to a life in prison for her crimes.

Elizabeth Escalona's sentencing hearing will continue Thursday, a day after she pleaded for leniency, saying she was no longer the "monster" who committed the attack.  "I will never forgive myself for what I did to my own daughter," said Elizabeth Escalona, who pleaded guilty in July to felony injury to a child.

Police say Escalona lost her temper last year with Jocelyn Cedillo over potty training problems.  Escalona beat and kicked Jocelyn before sticking her hands to an apartment wall using an adhesive commonly known as Super Glue.  The child was hospitalized for days.

Judge Larry Mitchell has a wide range in choosing Escalona's sentence: Anything from probation to life in prison is possible.  Prosecutors are asking for a 45-year sentence.

Defense attorney Angie N'Duka asked Escalona what she thought of photos that prosecutors presented earlier this week showing her daughter's injuries.  "Only a monster does that," Escalona responded. N'Duka then asked Escalona whether she thought she was a monster. "When that happened, I was," Escalona replied.

Escalona asked Mitchell for an opportunity to show she had changed, adding that she would accept any sentence as fair. "I want everybody to know I'm not a monster," Escalona said. "I love my kids." Escalona admitted to hitting and kicking her daughter but said she didn't recall why she did it.

Prosecutors have portrayed Escalona as an unfit mother with a history of violence.  They have played recordings in which Escalona as a teenager threatened to kill her mother.  They said she was a former gang member who started smoking marijuana at age 11.

Jocelyn suffered bleeding in her brain, a fractured rib, multiple bruises and bite marks, and was in a coma for a couple of days. Some skin had been torn off her hands, where doctors also found glue residue and white paint chips from the apartment wall, witnesses testified.

Escalona's family has acknowledged their dismay and anger following the attack, but both her mother and sister asked the judge for leniency.  "I wanted an explanation," said Margaret Escalona, her sister. "I wanted to know what happened.  I wanted to beat my sister up."

Ofelia Escalona, Elizabeth's mother, said her daughter hit her as a child, but she also said Elizabeth was abused growing up.  Both Ofelia and Margaret Escalona argued that Elizabeth needed more help and not prison.  "Her being taken away won't help any," Margaret Escalona said.

Counselor Melanie Davis testified Wednesday that she believes from the conversations she has had with Elizabeth Escalona that the mother loves her five children, one of whom was born after the attack.  Davis said she has been counseling Escalona since June, nine months after her arrest.

I find this story interesting for many reasons: (1) despite modern structured sentencing reforms, here a sentencing judge still has unfettered discretion to impose a sentence anywhere from probation to life in prison; (2) though not asking for life, prosecutors' request for a 45-year prison term suggests they state think defendant should not be locked up until she is very old (and no longer able to have more kids); (3) the only man mentioned in this story is the sentencing judge (though I am inclined to assume at least one of the prosecutors is a man); (4) Texas has a procedure for jury sentencing, and it is interesting to speculate whether we think a fitting sentence would be more likely to emerge from a multi-member jury deliberating about these matters rather than from a single sentencing judge.

October 11, 2012 at 08:48 AM | Permalink


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The sad part is this really could have been prevented and the money spent on 45 years incarceration could probably be better spent preventing countless other similar cases.

The nursing program for at risk mothers, the Nurse–Family Partnership, actually works.

Posted by: George | Oct 11, 2012 11:50:43 AM

"The sad part is this really could have been prevented..."

That of course is sheer speculation. The known sad part is that this little child was, for any practical purpose, tortured by her mother.

The problem with this woman is not insufficient education. Women with zero education do better than this, a lot better. The problem is that she has a violent, sadistic streak and little to no self-control.

I don't know what her sentence should be, but I know for sure that she should never be given custody of children, ever.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Oct 11, 2012 12:42:57 PM

Doug B. writes, "... (3) the only man mentioned in this story is the sentencing judge (though I am inclined to assume at least one of the prosecutors is a man);...

I have to wonder the significance of this random factoid in determining a "fitting sentence" for this defendant? Would a different sentence be appropriate if the judge and/or prosecutor were female?

Posted by: C | Oct 11, 2012 2:33:44 PM

One of the problems with our CJ system is that all we have is incarceration. One solution for everything.

Don't get me wrong, this lady need to spend a lot of time in jail. But she should also be forcibly sterilized.

Posted by: jb | Oct 11, 2012 9:34:37 PM

The beating put her daughter into a coma. That's the real issue here. The super glue is a sideshow. I would suggest that the mother should get whatever sentence is typically handed out for a beating that puts someone into a coma.

Posted by: William Jockusch | Oct 12, 2012 10:22:28 AM

Mr. Jockush is right. It's the coma.

FWIW, she received 99 years and is parole-eligible in 30.

Posted by: federalist | Oct 12, 2012 1:10:02 PM

Mr. Bill, I'm not interested in a punishment competition, which is better, yours or hers. I didn't claim to know what her sentence should be and didn't claim she should have more children. Nor did I say the harm to her child was not sad (of course it is tragic, beyond sad, and it is preposterous that that "disclaimer" is required).

Your argument that the Nurse–Family Partnership could not have prevented this if implemented is pure speculation on your part. In fact, the data says you are probably wrong. Try it.

The Power of Nursing


In 2010, 5.9 million children were reported as abused or neglected in the United States. If you were a policy maker and you knew of a program that could cut this figure in half, what would you do? What if you could reduce the number of babies or toddlers hospitalized for accidents or poisonings by more than half? Or provide a 5 to 7 point I.Q. boost to children born to the most vulnerable mothers?

Well, there is a way. These and other striking results have been documented in studies of a program called the Nurse-Family Partnership, or NFP, which arranges for registered nurses to make regular home visits to first-time low-income or vulnerable mothers, starting early in their pregnancies and continuing until their child is 2.

We tend to think of social change as more of an art than a science. “What’s unique about Nurse-Family Partnership is that the program was studied in what’s considered the strongest study design, and it showed sizable, sustained effects on important life outcomes which were replicated across different populations,” explained Jon Baron, president of the Coalition for Evidence-Based Policy, a nonpartisan group. “This is very unusual. There are probably only about ten programs across all areas of social policy that currently meet that standard.”

What that means, notes Baron, is that if policy makers replicate the program faithfully they can be confident that it will change people’s lives in meaningful ways — improving child and maternal health, promoting positive parenting, children’s school readiness and families’ economic self-sufficiency, and reducing juvenile delinquency and crime.

Posted by: George | Oct 12, 2012 1:55:01 PM

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