Valdosta Daily Times

National, International News

October 17, 2012

Mom gets 99 years in prison for gluing tot's hands

DALLAS — A Dallas woman who beat her 2-year-old daughter and glued the toddler's hands to a wall was sentenced Friday to 99 years in prison by a judge who described his decision as a necessary punishment for a brutal, shocking attack.

Elizabeth Escalona did not immediately react as State District Judge Larry Mitchell pronounced the sentence at the end of a five-day hearing. Prosecutor Eren Price, who originally offered Escalona a plea deal for 45 years, had argued that she now thought the 23-year-old mother deserved life.

Mitchell said his decision came down to one thing.

"On Sept. 7, 2011, you savagely beat your child to the edge of death," Mitchell said. "For this you must be punished."

The beating left Jocelyn Cedillo in a coma for a couple of days.

Escalona's other children told authorities their mother attacked Jocelyn due to potty training problems. Police say she kicked her daughter in the stomach, beat her with a milk jug, then stuck her hands to an apartment wall with an adhesive commonly known as Super Glue.

Jocelyn suffered bleeding in her brain, a fractured rib, multiple bruises and bite marks, a doctor testified. Some skin had been torn off her hands, where doctors also found glue residue and white paint chips from the apartment wall.

Escalona pleaded guilty in July to one count of felony injury to a child.

Price said Escalona would be eligible to apply for parole in 30 years.

Mitchell could have sentenced Escalona to anywhere from probation to life in prison. A sentence as long as 99 years is rare for felony injury to a child cases in Texas, but not unheard of. According to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, about 2,100 inmates are serving prison sentences for felony injury offenses involving a child, elderly or disabled victim. Just fewer than 5 percent of those inmates are serving sentences of 99 years or more, including life.

Defense attorney Angie N'Duka said afterward that the sentence was "way too harsh" and suggested the widespread attention her client's case had received contributed to the sentence.

"It's a lot of pressure, a lot of pressure on the parties," N'Duka said.

Price said prosecutors decided to ask for a longer sentence after receiving more evidence they wouldn't have had if Escalona had taken a deal for 45 years.

"We feel like the judge listened very carefully to a very difficult week of testimony, and we feel like he did exactly what the evidence called for," Price said.

Throughout the hearing, Price sought to portray Escalona as a liar, a monster and an unfit mother. She forced Escalona Thursday to look at enlarged photos of the bruises her attack left on Jocelyn.

Price argued Friday that if a stranger had beaten Jocelyn the same way, no one would hesitate to give that person life in prison. Escalona had mishandled a "beautiful gift" of a daughter and failed to recognize what she had done, Price argued.

"The 45-year recommendation was for somebody who was going to take ownership of what she did, appreciate what she caused," Price said.

Sending her to prison for decades would protect her children's future, Price argued.

"You can give Jocelyn and her brothers and sister peace," she said. "You can give them peace, so that when they're sitting around the dinner table at Thanksgiving with their big family, they're not worried that their mother is going to come walking through the door."

Defense attorney Angie N'Duka asked for probation or a prison sentence shorter than 10 years. N'Duka argued that her client was a "train wreck" waiting to happen before the attack, the product of a broken home, abuse and a childhood that included illegal drugs and hanging out with gang members.

N'Duka repeated that she did not want to minimize the injuries from the attack.

"They are despicable, but then the question is, 'What is justice for Jocelyn?'" she said, adding later: "Giving Elizabeth the opportunity to be a better mother, giving her the opportunity to get counseling services, will be justice for Jocelyn."

Escalona's five children, including Jocelyn and a baby born after the attack, are in the care of their grandmother, Ofeila Escalona.

Mitchell listened to both lawyers and took a short break before delivering his sentence.

The judge said he believed many of the allegations that Escalona was abused as a child. "And again, outside of the context of this trial, I think even the state would find you to be a sympathetic figure, because they prosecute people for what was done to you," Mitchell said. "But I can't consider that evidence outside of the context of this trial."

He then announced the sentence. A family member of Escalona began sobbing and screaming, "No!"

N'Duka told reporters that Escalona had asked afterward, "What about my children?"

Ofelia Escalona had asked for leniency for her daughter. After the sentencing, she left the courtroom with a solemn expression, ignoring reporters' shouted questions.

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