It was a bleak Friday in Pierce County Superior Court. Four judges sentenced four killers to lengthy prison terms – but the longest sentence landed on a woman who repeatedly dosed her 14-month-old daughter’s eyes with bleach.
Jennifer Mothershead got 40 years, less than the 50 prosecutors wanted, but far more than the seven her attorney sought. A jury found her guilty in October. The charge was assault of a child in the first degree, but deputy prosecutor Kara Sanchez called it “seven weeks of methodical torture.”
The child, now 3, suffered permanent vision loss in her right eye, according to statements in court papers. She now lives with her father.
Throughout the investigation that began in 2011, and the trial that followed, Mothershead, 31, denied giving her daughter anything other than what doctors prescribed. She said the same thing at her sentencing Friday.
“I know this is the time the court wants to hear me admit what I have done, but I cannot do that here,” she said. “I never put anything in (her) eyes that the doctor did not prescribe.”
The doctor didn’t prescribe bleach. According to court records, the child’s injuries were discovered in May 2011, when she was airlifted to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle with a head injury and signs of possible abuse.
Medical teams noticed the child’s injured eyes. Mothershead, who had driven to the hospital with a cooler, said her daughter needed her eye drops, prescribed after an earlier infection.
Sheriff’s deputies said the nurses and doctors would take care of it. Mothershead argued, to no avail. When the medical team opened the cooler, “a noxious odor filled the room, burning eyes, causing mild nausea for staff.” Subsequent tests of the eye drops revealed bleach.
The standard range for Mothershead’s crime was seven to 10 years. Jane Pierson, her attorney, argued for the minimum. Sanchez argued for 50 years, citing aggravating factors.
“There are times when a crime is committed in a certain way that calls for punishment that is far greater,” she said. “This is one of those circumstances. This is one of those times.”
Court papers included Mothershead’s statements about administering the eye drops. She said the child fought and had to be held down during the process.
“To take something as fundamental as someone’s vision, as your own baby’s vision, is heinous,” Sanchez said. “Each time, the defendant could see how badly it hurt.”
When her turn came to speak, Mothershead spoke of her life-long love of horses. She said she learned to ride at the age of 2, cared for abused horses and taught other young people how to ride.
She spoke of her failed relationship with her husband, and called it a mistake. She said her daughter’s first word was “kitty,” and said she loved going to the barn with her mother to watch the horses.
“I miss her so much,” she said.
Judge Linda Lee had the last word. She talked of sitting through the trial and watching Mothershead.
“You are a very calm, as you put it, stoic person,” Lee said. “But there were points during your testimony when I saw your face light up with joy – when you were talking about horses. You smiled only when you were talking about horses. Not when you were talking about those good times you had with your daughter.”
Lee rattled off the sentence: 480 months, plus a mandatory mental-health evaluation, and no contact with the victim for life. It was less than Sanchez wanted, but far more than Pierson had asked for.
A handful of jurors sat in the audience, returning one last time to the courtroom to watch the story end. One of them shook her head.
“You should have seen the evidence, the pictures,” she said. “They should have given her 600.”
Sean Robinson: 253-597-8486