Upshur woman gets maximum sentence in shaken-baby case

Senior-status Judge John Henning sentenced a Buckhannon woman to the maximum amount of time after her conviction on a child abuse resulting in bodily injury charge, saying he hoped it would send a message to others in society thinking about doing the same thing.

Beth Ann Harris, 23, will spend up to five years in the penitentiary for her involvement in shaking her 12-day-old daughter in February 2010 to the point where the child will require around-the-clock medical care for the rest of her life.

“When I read the pre-sentence investigation, the thing that really jumped out at me was the sadness of this case,” Henning said. “The child was 12 days old when she was abused. It was a helpless 12-day-old baby that may have cried. Babies do that.”

Henning said he was bothered to learn that Harris had passed a child care class while in school.

“Her husband told her to stop, that she was hurting the child,” he said. “But she continued.”

The judge learned through victim impact statements that the little girl, now 3 years old, weighs only 27 pounds and does not sit, walk or crawl. The child has suffered through a variety of medical problems after being diagnosed with Shaken Baby Syndrome.

“As much as I hold out hope,” Henning said. “I’m afraid she will need total care for the rest of her life. All because the mother had such callous disregard for her child.”

Defense attorney Jim Hawkins had sought to have a lesser sentence, including probation, because of her having no substance abuse issues and no past criminal history. He said the incident “was not a malicious act,” but a case where a young mother was sent home with a baby and who “lost her cool on one occasion.

“I’m not trying to diminish the act in any way,” he added.

Henning said he was handing down the maximum sentence because he wanted other mothers to stop and “hesitate before committing such devastating injuries to their own child.”