By Billy Davis
A year after Tri-Lakes emergency room personnel witnessed the burns and broken bones of an infant girl, the mother of the child has been sentenced to prison for felony child abuse.
Cassandra Daugherty, 26, was sentenced to a 10-year prison term Thursday, November 10 at a sentencing hearing at the Panola County Courthouse in Batesville.
Circuit Judge Ann Lamar handed down Daugherty’s sentence, giving her 10 years for each of the three counts of felony child abuse.
A Panola grand jury indicted Daugherty in September on three separate counts of abuse, each count indicating a separate injury to the child: a broken left leg, a broken left arm, and burn marks on the fingers.
"Ms. Daugherty received a sentence of 30 years, 10 years per count, and each count runs consecutively," sheriff’s investigator Mark Whitten explained Monday. "She must serve the first 10 years while the remaining 20 years is suspended."
Daugherty could have received a maximum of 20 years per count under state law. She pleaded guilty to the charges in October.
The defendant was represented in court by attorney Tony Farese.
The child, now two years and five months old, has since been adopted by a Panola County family. (The Panolian does not identify victims and families in circumstances such as this).
"The child went to a good, loving home, and the family is trying to put this behind them and move on," Whitten said.
Law enforcement officers arrested Daugherty’s boyfriend, Randall Yancey Jr., during their investigation but later cleared him of all charges.
"Mr. Yancey not only cooperated with us but was helpful in the investigation," said sheriff’s investigator Barry Thompson.
The infant was 16 months old when Yancey’s sister, Stephanie Poynor, took the child to Tri-Lakes on Thanksgiving Day, 2004, court records show.
Family members witnessed the child’s injuries, including a severely swollen arm, when they gathered for the holiday. In order to take the child to seek medical care, however, Daugherty made Poynor promise she would tell hospital staff the child had been injured that day.
The story quickly fell apart, however, after x-rays showed one of the broken bones was already healing, indicating the injury had occurred weeks earlier.
Due to the injuries, the child was transported that same day from Tri-Lakes to LeBonheur Children’s Medical Hospital in Memphis.
Daugherty was arrested November 30. Yancey was arrested December 1.
In a jailhouse interview with Whitten, Daugherty said the child was burned with a "flat iron" after accidentally touching it, according to a transcript of the interview.
Asked by Whitten about the child’s broken bones, the mother said she had no explanation for the injuries.
"I don’t have one," she said. "I can’t explain it."
"Now is the time for the truth to come out," Whitten eventually told the defendant during the interview.
As part of Daugherty’s guilty plea, Lamar allowed Farese to utilize a rare court ruling, North Carolina v. Alford, as part of his client’s plea.
Similar to a no contest plea, the ruling argues that Daugherty could have been mentally impaired when she injured her daughter.
"It basically means she could have committed this crime in a certain state of mind but doesn’t remember what state of mind she was in," Whitten explained.
Neither Lamar nor Farese returned phone calls seeking comment about introducing the North Carolina v. Alford ruling to Daugherty’s sentencing.
Whitten said courtroom testimony suggested that Daugherty had a substance abuse problem, which could have factored into the abuse.
Whitten, a veteran law enforcement officer, said he had never witnessed a defense attorney utilize the North Carolina v. Alford ruling before.