Denver Series: When Kids Are Killed, Punishment Often Is Less Severe


When children die from abuse and neglect in Colorado, those responsible for their deaths are likely to serve significantly less prison time than those who kill adults–if they go to prison at all, reports the Denver Post. An analysis of five years of state sentencing data found that those convicted of child abuse resulting in death between 2007 and 2011 got prison sentences 25 percent shorter than those who killed adults and were sentenced for the comparable felony charge of second-degree murder. For the less serious charge of child abuse negligently causing death, sentences were 42 percent shorter than those handed down for the equivalent Class 3 felony charge when the victims were adults.

The story is part of the Post’s “Failed to Death” series about child abuse. There is no easy answer for the punishment difference, said Dennis Maes, a retired chief judge who established a dedicated court for juvenile offenders and child abuse cases in Pueblo. When Maes handed down sentences, a parent who had made a child’s life miserable with cruelty would probably get a longer sentence than one who “but for this moment of irrationality” had tried to be a good parent, he said. Charges either weren’t filed or were dropped in 18 of the 72 cases reviewed by the Post where children died of abuse or neglect after their families or caregivers came to the attention of social services. When charges were brought, three killers got life sentences and eight got probation.

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