A judge Wednesday sentenced the mother of an autistic Michigan teenager to 10-22 years in prison in what she described as a failed murder-suicide attempt brought on by despair after years of violent attacks by the child and failure to find affordable and effective treatment.
Kelli Rai Stapleton, 46, pleaded guilty last month to first-degree child abuse in a bargain with prosecutors who dismissed an attempted murder charge. She admitted driving her daughter Isabelle to an isolated spot in rural northern Michigan in September 2013, giving her a sleep-inducing drug and placing two charcoal-burning grills inside their van.
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Both survived, although Isabelle, now 15, was in a coma for four days and suffered brain damage. Although largely recovered, she still has memory loss and problems with balance.
Circuit Judge James Batzer ordered Stapleton to serve a minimum of 10 years before becoming eligible for parole, though she will get credit for the 399 days she's already served. He set her maximum sentence at 22 years.
Her body trembling and her voice breaking, Stapleton apologized repeatedly before her sentencing to her children, her former husband, her friends and others. Although her attorney requested probation and community service, Stapleton herself asked Batzer for a 15-year sentence — "one year for every year of (Isabelle's) life that I tried to take."
Batzer rejected the suggestion that Stapleton had faked her suicide attempt and simply wanted to be rid of her daughter. He said that Stapleton might have been mentally ill but noted that she had decided against going to trial on an insanity defense. Defense attorney Heidi Hodek said she was disappointed and that imprisoning Stapleton wouldn't help anyone. Prosecutor Sara Swanson said Stapleton deserved punishment and the sentence should serve as a deterrent.