A Pierce County jury Friday convicted Leanne Bechtel of killing 3-year-old Autumn Franks in a Lakewood apartment four years ago, rejecting the woman’s contention that the family dog was responsible for toddler’s fatal injury.
Bechtel, 29, broke down in tears as Superior Court Judge John McCarthy read the verdict.
“She’s devastated,” her attorney, Brett Purtzer, said later.
Bechtel will be sentenced Nov. 16 on one count of second-degree murder.
A standard-range sentence would call for Bechtel to spend between 10 and 18 years in prison, but the jury made special findings that Autumn was a particularly vulnerable victim and that Bechtel abused a position of trust in committing the crime. That means prosecutors can ask for a sentence above the standard range.
Attempts to reach deputy prosecutor Lori Kooiman were unsuccessful, so it could not be determined what sentence she would recommend for Bechtel.
Corrections officers took Bechtel, who’d been out on bail pending trial, into custody after the verdict was read.
Autumn died in April 2008 of a massive skull fracture. Bechtel had contended the family dog, a hyperactive pit bull named Dozer, knocked the girl off the couch and Autumn landed on her head.
Jurors, who heard three weeks of testimony, rejected that argument, siding instead with Kooiman and colleague Angelica Williams, who said the girl died of a violent assault at the hands of Bechtel.
The deputy prosecutors called to the stand several doctors who all testified that while it wasn’t impossible that the dog caused the girl’s injuries it was highly unlikely, a “1 in a million chance,” as Kooiman said in closing arguments Thursday.
Bechtel was the live-in girlfriend of Autumn’s father at the time of the girl’s death. There was no history of abuse, but Kooiman argued to the jury that Bechtel had been under stress and likely slammed the girl’s head against something hard in a moment of frustration.