BY STEVE E. SWENSON, Californian staff writer firstname.lastname@example.org
A 20-year-old Bakersfield woman pleaded no contest Wednesday to a reduced charge of child cruelty in the death of 2-year-old Kayli Bearden.
The plea by Melissa Blanchard carries a stipulated sentence of nine years in prison, the attorneys said. She will come back to court on May 5 for sentencing.
Blanchard had faced a potential term of 25 years to life on an assault charge resulting in the death of a child. That was the only charge left following a jury's decision in December that she was not guilty of second-degree murder or involuntary manslaughter.
The jury voted 7 to 5 in favor of finding her not guilty of the assault.
Defense attorney Konrad Moore said "there is no happy ending" in the case. He said there was an "enormous potential risk of her spending the rest of her life in prison" versus a possible acquittal in the case.
Blanchard admitted to harming Kayli in August 2008, but Moore called that a "coerced confession." Nonetheless, a jury may see that differently, he said. Blanchard initially told police she did not harm the child.
But after officers pressed her, she admitted forcibly sitting the child down hard on a couch three times a few minutes before police were called, according to evidence in the case. The prosecution argued the child's head was injured hitting the wooden arm of the couch.
Prosecutor Chris Staiger said he wanted to proceed to trial on the assault charge, but with a recent appellate court ruling, there was a chance that a conviction could have been overturned on appeal.
He said he discussed reducing the charge with family members of the child before going forward with the plea bargain.
The child died from a skull fracture and swelling of the brain. There was conflicting evidence on whether the child was injured at a time only Blanchard was caring for her, or if it could have happened when the father, Matthew Bearden, 24, was present, the attorneys said after the December trial. Bearden has never been charged in the case.