Judge: Mother risked baby with mo­lester

‘I need to send a mes­sage’

Cecil Whig - - FRONT PAGE - By CARL HAMIL­TON

ca­hamil­ton@ce­cil­whig.com

— A judge sen­tenced a woman to one year in jail Mon­day for tak­ing her baby along when she went on the lam with the North East-area man who had re­peat­edly mo­lested her older child.

De­spite be­ing made aware of the abuse by her then­boyfriend, Mario Deje­sus Baez, 41, by her child and be­ing shown ev­i­dence of it, the de­fen­dant — Lena Wagoner, 33, of Bear, Del. — trav­eled in the com­pany of Baez with their 8-weekold child last year as he ran from au­thor­i­ties, pros­e­cu­tors said.

In ad­di­tion, pros­e­cu­tors added, Wagoner did so in de­fi­ance of a Ce­cil County Child Pro­tec­tive Ser­vices’ safety or­der ban­ning her from let­ting Baez have any con­tact with her chil­dren and with her.

Also, at some point dur­ing their multi-state trek to elude au­thor­i­ties, with their baby in tow, Wagoner mar­ried Baez, pros­e­cu­tors re­ported.

Ce­cil County Cir­cuit Court Ad­min­is­tra­tive Judge Keith A. Baynes re­peat­edly ex­pressed dis­be­lief from the bench dur­ing Mon­day’s

ELK­TON

court­room pro­ceed­ing.

“That’s what I can’t un­der­stand, af­ter see­ing those pic­tures and still run­ning off with this guy, ex­pos­ing their baby to this an­i­mal who abused her (older) kid. She put her daugh­ter in jeop­ardy,” Baynes re­marked.

Baez has since been sen­tenced to 45 years in prison af­ter plead­ing guilty to four child sex abuse charges.

Wagoner’s as­sis­tant pub­lic de­fender, James A. Close, told the judge that his client was con­fused af­ter learn­ing of the mo­lesta­tion al­le­ga­tions against Baez. (Wagoner’s older child is from a pre­vi­ous re­la­tion­ship. Baez and Wagoner then had their daugh­ter.)

“There was a lot of emo­tional things that caused her to leave Mary­land with this guy,” Close told the judge, adding, “I think she was in de­nial.”

The de­fense lawyer opined that Baez did not mo­lest their baby while on the run with Wagoner, ex­plain­ing that they were to­gether in close quar­ters through­out their jour­ney and, there­fore, he lacked op­por­tu­nity.

“There’s no child sex abuse with a crowd,” Close said.

The bi­o­log­i­cal fa­ther now has cus­tody of Baez’s older child, ac-

cord­ing to Close. The de­fense lawyer re­ported that Wagoner is al­lowed to visit once a week un­der of­fi­cial su­per­vi­sion. In­for­ma­tion con­cern­ing cus­tody of Wagoner’s baby daugh­ter was not re­leased.

Close re­ported that Wagoner is mak­ing progress in a “plan for re­uni­fi­ca­tion” with her child and, ac­cord­ing to him, Wagoner is a “fit” par­ent who un­fail­ingly pro­vides for her chil­dren.

The de­fense lawyer asked the judge to im­pose a sus­pended oneyear sen­tence on Wagoner, who had pleaded guilty to ren­der­ing a child in need of as­sis­tance as part of a plea deal in which pros­e­cu­tors dropped har­bor­ing a fugi­tive, reck­less en­dan­ger­ment and five counts of ac­ces­sory af­ter the fact of crime.

In­stead of jail time, Close re­quested that the judge give Wagoner pro­ba­tion be­fore judg­ment and place her on 18 months of su­per­vised pro­ba­tion that would in­clude her con­tin­u­ing with her psy­cho­log­i­cal ther­apy.

Close made his rec­om­men­da­tion af­ter As­sis­tant State’s At­tor­ney Emily Alt de­ferred to the judge for sen­tenc­ing. Be­fore leav­ing sen­tenc­ing at the judge’s dis­cre­tion, the prose­cu­tor noted that state sen­tenc­ing guide­lines set a penalty range of pro­ba­tion up to six months of ac­tive in­car­cer­a­tion. State sen­tenc­ing guide­lines are based on a de­fen­dant’s crim­i­nal record and other fac­tors. Ren­der-

ing a child in need of as­sis­tance car­ries a max­i­mum three-year sen­tence.

Baynes bluntly re­jected Close’s rec­om­men­da­tion, how­ever, com­ment­ing from the bench, “I’m not giv­ing her pro­ba­tion. She turned her back on her kids. I just don’t un­der­stand how a par­ent could do that to her own kid.”

The judge, once again, re­ferred to Baez as an “an­i­mal,” and ques­tioned how Wagoner could ex­pose their baby to him — af­ter her child had told her of Baez’s abuse and af­ter she saw photos chron­i­cling the mo­lesta­tion.

Ad­dress­ing the judge be­fore sen­tenc­ing, Wagoner stressed that she is try­ing to re­build her re­la­tion­ships with her older child.

“I made a very, very bad mis­take. I love my kids. I can’t ex­plain to them why I can’t see them all the time,” Wagoner cried.

The judge asked Wagoner why she took the baby and went with Baez, and she replied, “I have no idea.”

Baynes re­torted that Wagoner cat­e­go­riz­ing her crime as a mis­judg­ment rang hol­low, that it wasn’t enough for her to say, “I made a mis­take, my bad, every­thing is OK.”

Wagoner re­sponded, “It’s not OK,” re­fer­ring to how her re­la­tion­ships with her chil­dren are now cut al­most com­pletely.

“They’re young kids. I’m frus­trated,” Baynes con­tin­ued, adding, “This is one of the most se­ri­ous crimes a par­ent can do. I think there needs to be pun­ish­ment. I need to send a mes­sage to the com­mu­nity.”

Baynes im­posed a three-year sen­tence on Wagoner, prompt­ing her to start cry­ing, and then sus­pended two years of it.

Wagoner will serve her one-year term in the Ce­cil County De­ten­tion Cen­ter. The judge or­dered Wagoner to serve 18 months of su­per­vised pro­ba­tion upon her re­lease and or­dered her to have no con­tact with Baez, who won’t be el­i­gi­ble for his first pa­role hear­ing un­til ap­prox­i­mately 2038.

An emo­tional Wagoner told the judge that send­ing her to jail would pun­ish her chil­dren even more, be­cause she wouldn’t be able to see them.

“You’re the one who did this. Don’t look at me like I’m the bad guy. You ex­posed your in­fant daugh­ter to this an­i­mal,” Baynes quickly re­sponded, ad­mon­ish­ing Wagoner from the bench. “You

planned and schemed and made an es­cape (with Baez). You chose him over your own chil­dren. You threw them away.”

Wagoner, as it turns out, is the one who re­ported her child’s al­le­ga­tions against Baez to au­thor­i­ties, launch­ing in­ves­ti­ga­tions by Child Pro­tec­tive Ser­vices agents and Ce­cil County Sher­iff’s Of­fice de­tec­tives.

But in late May, with their baby in tow, Wagoner and Baez fled Mary­land — right be­fore CCSO in­ves­ti­ga­tors were is­sued an ar­rest war­rant for Baez.

Un­able to find Baez lo­cally to ar­rest him, in­ves­ti­ga­tors con­tacted state and fed­eral au­thor­i­ties and that led to a fugi­tive search cov­er­ing sev­eral east­ern states.

Re­spond­ing to a tip, a team of U.S. Mar­shals Of­fice agents and Smoky Moun­tains Fugi­tive Task Force of­fi­cers cap­tured Baez at a Re­lax Inn on Asheville High­way out­side of Knoxville on June 9. Wagoner and their baby daugh­ter also were found there. Au­thor­i­ties placed the baby in pro­tec­tive cus­tody.

In Novem­ber, the Ce­cil County State’s At­tor­ney’s Of­fice filed crim­i­nal charges against Wagoner, which led to her con­vic­tion and one-year sen­tence.

“I think the judge rec­og­nized that there are times when the crime war­rants a pun­ish­ment that ex­ceeds state sen­tenc­ing guide­lines,” Alt said Mon­day.

WAGONER

BAEZ

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.