URBANA — A Tolono woman who admitted seriously harming an infant in her care faces up to seven years in prison when she is sentenced in January.
Michele Reed, 43, entered an Alford plea Friday morning before Judge Roger Webber in which she admitted that the state had enough evidence to persuade a jury of her guilt but continues to proclaim her innocence. The plea is named after a U.S. Supreme Court decision.
The penalties for aggravated battery, a Class 3 felony, range from probation to two to 10 years in prison — they are extended because the victim is under age 12 — but assistant state’s attorneys Lindsey Clark and Joel Fletcher agreed to cap their sentencing recommendation at seven years behind bars.
Reed is represented by Assistant Public Defender Dan Taylor, who explained to Webber that his client understood the consequences of the unusual guilty plea.
Essentially, the strategy in taking the plea limits the amount of time she might have to serve by locking in a charge that enables her to get day-for-day good time on her sentence. A jury could have returned a guilty verdict to a more serious Class X charge, exposing her to six to 30 years behind bars.
Reed was arrested Oct. 17, 2017, on charges of aggravated battery to a then-6-month-old boy for allegedly causing a brain injury to him four days earlier. It wasn’t until 18 months later, in late April, after her bond was twice reduced, that Reed was able to come up with enough cash to win her release pending trial.
Clark said she and Fletcher will likely call witnesses at the Jan. 13 sentencing hearing to expand on the injuries to the child, who is now 2, and his prognosis. He is expected to have physical challenges for the foreseeable future.
For purposes of Reed’s plea, Clark gave Webber a brief synopsis of the following facts:
The boy was at Reed’s home day care on Oct. 13, 2017, when she called 911 to report that he was suffering from a medical emergency.
“He was not alert when he arrived at the hospital and an initial CT scan showed a subdural hematoma to his brain,” Clark said. “Dr. (Brent) Reifsteck from Carle Hospital indicated that there was also retinal bleeding in both eyes, which he believed was indicative of multiple back-and-forth movements, such as being shaken and thrown.”
Clark said Reed initially denied to Tolono police that she caused the injury. Later, she said she picked him up when he was crying and couldn’t calm him.
“She then told the officer that she became frustrated, shook him and threw him into the corner of the couch,” Clark said. “She then left the room, and when she came back, she found him unresponsive on the couch.”
The guilty plea headed off a pre-trial hearing intended to test the scientific validity and acceptance within the scientific community of research regarding false confessions. That hearing had been set for Friday and involved the testimony of a social psychologist from Canada who had reviewed Reed’s statement to police.
Had that hearing gone forward, Webber would have then had to make the difficult decision on whether that research is scientifically accepted in that field and if it would have helped the jury reach a verdict without being unduly prejudicial.
Fletcher said he and Clark discussed the resolution of Reed’s case with the boy’s family Thursday. He said while they understand the reasons for the plea, they said it is not the justice they had hoped to get for their son.