Kearns woman to stand trial for murder in death of disabled woman
By Aaron Falk
The Salt Lake Tribune
Published: November 28, 2011 06:05PM
Courtesty photo Christina D. Harms A Kearns woman accused of abusing a 22-year-old disabled woman — binding her feet and tying her to a bar in a small closet before her death — has been ordered to stand trial on a charge of murder.
Defense attorneys for Cassandra Marie Shepard argued the charge should be reduced to manslaughter, calling the circumstances of Christina Harms’ death in March “ambiguous.”
“The evidence ... does not show an intentional or knowing murder,” defense attorneys wrote in documents filed in 3rd District Court following an October preliminary hearing.
On Monday, however, Judge Randall Skanchy disagreed, ordering Shepard to stand trial on charges of first-degree felony aggravated abuse of a vulnerable adult and second-degree felony obstructing justice in addition to the murder count.
“It didn’t happen!” Shepard, 28, said in court, as Skanchy listed off some of the allegations against her.
Prosecutors have said Shepard, a registered nurse, “knew she was creating a grave risk of death,” when she bound Harms’ arms and legs and placed her in a closet with little food and water — “all while plying the victim with high doses of sedatives to keep her quiet and conforming.”
Harms, who had fetal alcohol syndrome, which caused her to function at preteen levels, died of abuse and neglect, a medical examiner testified at the October hearing. The woman was severely dehydrated and had high levels of a sedative, possibly Benadryl, in her system.
Defense attorneys argued in court documents that Harms did not die as a result of being tied up or placed in the closet. They said Harms was well-fed, bordering on obese. She had wounds on her arms, but they were being treated. And the sedative levels could be consistent with someone who had developed a tolerance to the drug, the medical examiner said.
Shepard, Harms’ legal guardian, was the one who called 911 and was in “extreme emotional distress” when police arrived, her defense attorneys said.
“Evidence of abuse is one thing,” the defense wrote. “Evidence of knowledge that the probability of death was highly likely is something else entirely.”
Shepard’s next court appearance is set for Jan. 9.
Shepard’s stepfather, 52-year-old Dale Robert Beckering, was convicted earlier this month on a lesser charge of second-degree felony aggravated abuse of a vulnerable adult. Shepard’s mother, 50-year-old Sherrie Lynn Beckering, is scheduled to stand trial in January on a first-degree felony charge of aggravated abuse of a vulnerable adult.
© 2011 The Salt Lake Tribune Kearns woman to stand trial for murder in death of disabled womanBy Aaron Falk
The Salt Lake Tribune