Warner Robins mother sentenced to 15 years in infant’s beating death — (The Telegraph)

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The Telegraph

Thursday, Jun. 24, 2010

By BECKY PUSRER – bpurser@macon.com 

PERRY ­ A Warner Robins mother was sentenced today in Houston County Superior Court to 15 years in a prison facility for the 2008 beating death of her infant daughter.

Joanne Elizabeth Tucker, 27, will serve in either a prison facility that provides for mental health care or a regular prison based on a pending mental evaluation, Judge Edward D. Lukemire said from the bench.

Lukemire sentenced Tucker immediately after she entered a “guilty but mentally ill” plea to involuntary manslaughter, a felony, for the baby’s death. She also pleaded guilty to felony cruelty to children for not getting medical aid and to misdemeanor assault.

In consideration of the plea agreement worked out between her defense attorney and the prosecutor, the judge dismissed the charges of murder, aggravated assault and aggravated battery.

Her sentence also included three years of probation and a mandate that she follow all doctor’s orders concerning treatment and medications.

The plea averted her trial, which had been scheduled for next week.

Dr. Derpti Bhasin, a forensic psychiatrist, testified during the hearing that Tucker suffered from postpartum depression in its worst stage of psychosis. Bhasin told the judge that Tucker was suffering at the time of the crime from  a significant mental illness impaired her judgment and grasp of reality. Bhasin also testified that Tucker told her obstetrician-gynecologist she was depressed and felt incapable of caring for the infant.

Tucker stopped taking the subsequent medication her doctor prescribed and instead was taking an different but similar type of medication given to her by a friend at the time of the baby’s death, Bhasin testified.

Public Defender Nick White, who represented Tucker, said the case was especially tragic because the baby death’s was unintentional at the hands of her own mother, something Tucker will have to carry with her for the rest of her life.

According to the indictment, Tucker shook and stuck the child with her hands, fracturing the infant’s skull.

Outside the courtroom, White said that after the beating, the mother realized she was out of control and went into another room to calm down. She heard the baby crying and then the baby stop crying, and she believed that the infant had gone to sleep, White said.

Awakened by her father in the morning, Tucker was told something was seriously wrong  with the infant, White said. Tucker attempted to take her own life after she realized her baby was dead, White said.

White said he shared the circumstances not to illicit sympathy but to demonstrate that Tucker realized the magnitude of her actions and that she deeply regrets the baby’s death.

From the bench, Lukemire told Tucker that with help, she could survive the moment in time that she’ll regret for the rest of her life. But Lukemire noted that there are still consequences because all life is precious, especially an innocent life.

District Attorney Jason Ashford said that the judge rendered the maximum sentence as requested. Ashford said the sentence was appropriate considering the mitigating circumstances.

Tucker’s mother, who was in the courtroom, declined comment after the hearing. She added, through tears, that “she loved her children.”

Tucker’s two other children were placed in foster care after the baby’s death and parental rights are expected to be terminated, according to testimony during the hearing.

To contact writer Becky Purser, call 256-9559.