A Baton Rouge judge labeled a 25-year-old woman “sinister and despicable” before sentencing her to 40 years in prison Wednesday in a 2009 child cruelty case involving her then-20-month-old stepson.
An East Baton Rouge Parish jury deliberated just 15 minutes Oct. 25 before unanimously finding Charlotte Staggs, of St. Gabriel, guilty of second-degree cruelty to a juvenile.
The boy, who will celebrate his fifth birthday next month, was rushed to Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center in August 2009 after ingesting fingernail polish remover. Medical personnel testified at Staggs’ trial that the child was severely malnourished and dehydrated, had bruises and scrapes on his body and a distinctive burn mark from a fork on his right thigh.
State District Judge Mike Erwin, who presided over the trial, said Wednesday he tried to find a reason why he should not give Staggs the maximum possible 40-year sentence.
“For the life of me, I couldn’t come up with any,” Erwin told Staggs, adding that she engaged in “one of the most despicable behaviors” he has ever seen as a judge.
Trial testimony indicated that after the boy’s biological mother died in an accident in 2008, a structured settlement of $225,000 was placed in trust for the child for his benefit when he turned 18.
Erwin charged that Staggs “systematically starved” the boy in hopes that she could get her “greedy hands” on the money intended for the child.
“You’re one of the most sinister and despicable persons I’ve ever been involved with,” he stated.
Staggs previously turned down offers to plead guilty in return for a 25-year prison term, prosecutor Charles Grey said.
Before sentencing Staggs, the judge denied a request from her attorney, Stephen Sterling, to sentence the woman to home incarceration. Sterling indicated he will file a motion asking the judge to reconsider the sentence.
The boy’s father — Steven Staggs, 29, of Baton Rouge — also is charged with second-degree cruelty to a juvenile. He failed to appear in Erwin’s courtroom Wednesday for a scheduled status hearing, so the judge issued a bench warrant for his arrest.
Charlotte Staggs testified at her trial and denied ever intentionally hurting her stepson. She claimed he burned himself with the fork when she left a bowl of hot noodles unattended on a table.
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