Last week, 21-year-old Jennifer Stephenson was sentenced to five years probation and was berated as a human being about as much as I’ve seen by a judge on the stand at her sentencing hearing for her conviction on a child abandonment charge.
The case was initially presented by police and prosecutors to the public as one where a 2-year-old boy had been tied up, only to have prosecutors quietly drop that theory along the way when medical experts learned more about the injuries. Eventually, Stephenson was found guilty by a jury of child abandonment resulting in great bodily harm and faced a 0-9 year sentence. Essentially they felt she should have checked on her son more, who had a 112-pound dresser fall on him and severely injure his legs. Doctors think the dresser was on the boy for 6-12 hours.
I received an e-mailed letter from Stephenson’s mother (the boy’s grandmother) and asked me to get it out to the public. So, here in its unedited form, is the letter written by Becky Rogers:
This has been a horrific ordeal for this family, a family that has done nothing but serve our community in New Mexico for over 20 years, but the true horror was faced primarily by our precious Isaiah, torn from a loving family in a time of crisis, at a very critical developmental stage, by a system that was reactive, biased and entirely unobjective.
From the Doctors at St. Vincent’s Hospital, who waited hours to begin treating Isaiah, and then generated a reckless and unfounded accusation, to the police detective who failed to do even a minimal investigation into the validity of the claim, to the newspapers and television stations who also failed to check their facts, finally to CYFD, who chose to vilify a loving and supportive family rather than allow us to support our beloved child in a time of great need. Two year old severely injured Isaiah spent the first two weeks of surgery and probably very painful medical procedures, entirely alone as the result of this accusation. He spent the following months in the hospital in Albuquerque with minimal family contact, in the care of strangers. We know that he will recover from his physical injuries, but cannot tell how or when the emotional scars will ever heal.
It is my fervent wish that none of you reading this today ever have the experience of knowing that an injured child that you love is in need of the love and care of his family and you are prevented from giving it to him. The experience is like a knife in the chest. Then to read the lies that kept on being printed in the paper about the situation, over and over again, despite the truth that came out in the hearing in March of last year, was like having the knife twisted in our chests. With the stakes so high for this little boy, no one in a professional position in Santa Fe EVER bothered to check their facts!
It was obvious to us, from the very beginning, due to the evidence of our own eyes of Isaiah’s injuries, and the evidence in our own hearts, that NO ONE ever tied him up.
It is clear to us that without that initial unsubstantiated accusation, Isaiah’s family would have been able to rally round him, and help him to achieve an even more miraculous recovery. Our dear Jennifer, who made a big mistake, but NEVER EVER would have knowingly allowed her child to suffer, would not have wasted 6 months of her young life in jail, and been subjected to a virtual witch hunt. Our hearts would not be broken by a community we love, which has failed us, and our child made to suffer for it.
We will never stop serving this community together, but now we will work to help fix an obviously broken system, which the children and families of our community rely upon to keep our children safe. In this case, an already injured child was further damaged emotionally by this dysfunctional system, that cuts across many critical areas of support in our community, from health care, law enforcement, social services to our legal system. Let us come together, in a spirit of love and forgiveness and work to fix this dangerous situation, so that no child has to suffer needlessly ever again, and at the hands of the very system charged with protecting them. This is the true ‘justice’ that our sweet Isaiah deserves.
— Becky Rogers, mother of Jennifer Stephenson/grandmother of Isaiah Apodaca