Judge: Mother risked baby with molester
‘I need to send a message’
— 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
“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.