SPOKANE — A former foster mother charged in the dehydration death of her adopted son has made a plea agreement rather than face trial for homicide by abuse and the potential of life in prison.
Just two days before jury selection was set to begin in Stevens County, Carole Ann DeLeon, 52, entered an Alford plea Friday to one count of criminal mistreatment in the first degree of Tyler DeLeon, who was deprived of both food and water and weighed only 28 pounds when he died on his seventh birthday Jan. 13, 2005.
In an Alford plea, DeLeon does not admit guilt but acknowledges she would likely be convicted at trial.
She also entered an Alford plea to a charge of criminal mistreatment in the second degree for her care of another boy who prosecutors alleged was severely malnourished in DeLeon's care. Four months after leaving her home, the boy had gained 18 pounds and grown 2 ½ inches, according to court records.
Stevens County Prosecutor Tim Rasmussen and defense attorney Carl Oreskovich reached an agreement to drop the homicide-by-abuse charge against DeLeon.
"Carole wanted to go to trial and be exonerated for the allegations made against her," Oreskovich said. "However, the risk in terms of having a jury making a determination based on emotion instead of based on fact, with the severe consequences, made it impossible in my mind to go to trial."
Rasmussen said he expects Superior Court Judge Al Nielson to sentence DeLeon to a combined 72 months in prison at the hearing scheduled for 9 a.m. Friday in Colville.
"Tyler's life was worth more than 72 months," Rasmussen said. "But 72 months is about the length of time he lived with her. And sending her to prison for about the same amount of time that Tyler lived with her, there is some justice in that."
The prosecutor said the shift in negotiations came when he realized he would have had to rely on the testimony of other children who were living with DeLeon to convince a jury that the former paralegal had tortured Tyler.
"It became clear to me in the last two weeks that it would re-traumatize three children who don't want anything to do with Carole DeLeon, ever," Rasmussen said. "I felt that by making this offer was the right thing to do for the survivors. And I traded their well-being for punishment potential for Carole DeLeon."
Rasmussen blamed the weakness of his case on the state Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS), which had publicly acknowledged it didn't do enough to protect Tyler.
"In many ways this case was compromised from the very beginning by the failure of [Child Protective Services] to recognize or do anything about what was going on in the DeLeon home," Rasmussen told The Spokesman-Review newspaper in Spokane.
"Law enforcement was not notified by CPS of Ty's death for almost a week. The crime scene had been compromised. The house had been cleaned, and law enforcement didn't have a fair opportunity to investigate the circumstances of his death."
Civil claims totaling $55 million have been filed against the state by the families of children for whom DeLeon provided care. Over the years, she took in 14 foster children and adopted five of them, according to DSHS.