Foster mom receives 9 years in death of toddler

By Ed Runyan

WARREN — The 31-year-old Champion woman who pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter in the April 2 death of her 20-month-old foster child said she was “unable to explain” what caused the child’s death.

A judge sentenced her to nine years in prison Thursday.

Bonnie Pattinson was living with her husband, two children and the foster child, Tiffany Banks Cross, in a duplex on Center Street West at the time.

“Tiffany was not loved by just my husband and myself but by her entire extended family,” Pattinson told Judge John M. Stuard of Trumbull County Common Pleas Court.

“And although I am unable to explain exactly what happened to her ... to cause her to stop breathing, I want everyone to know that I did seek immediate emergency help when I became aware that she had stopped breathing.”

Pattinson, who sat in the courtroom with her long brown hair covering most of her face, spoke quietly and with little emotion when it was time for her sentencing.

“My family’s only intention was to love her, keep her safe and watch her grow,” she said. “My family never intended for something so tragic to happen.”

Her attorney, Anthony Consoldane, noted that Pattinson has two children of her own and cared for a previous foster child before Tiffany with no problems. She has no previous criminal history, Consoldane said, adding that he believed Pattinson deserved no jail time.

He noted that Pattinson had undergone a hysterectomy about six months before the girl died and said “sometimes the absence of hormones over a period of time can cause a person to not think clearly or do the right thing, but she never intended to hurt the baby.”

Marcia Tiger, executive director of the Trumbull County Children’s Services Board, which had permanent custody of the girl, said her agency was not aware of the girl’s being abused at the Pattinson residence before her death.

She said the Pattinson family “passed the strictest of licensing requirements.” Tiger asked Judge Stuard to give Pattinson the maximum 10-year prison sentence.

Members of the girl’s biological family complained that CSB failed to properly monitor the girl’s condition and said Pattinson deserved a life prison sentence. CSB took possession of Tiffany a day after her birth because her birth mother had been unable to care for an earlier child.

“I ask you to look in my eyes and tell me what my little girl did to deserve this,” Tommy Cross, the baby’s biological father, said, looking at Pattinson.

Bonnie Edwards of Warren, another relative, said, “I really wish you would go to jail and never come out. I really hope you die in jail.”

Diane Barber, an assistant county prosecutor, has said that rings Pattinson was wearing on her hands had left marks on the girl’s neck but that there was no evidence she killed the girl on purpose.

The coroner, Dr. Humphrey Germaniuk, ruled the girl died of asphyxiation associated with multiple blunt-force injuries.

Barber said it was “fair” for Pattinson’s charges to be reduced from murder to involuntary manslaughter, but she wishes the maximum penalty for involuntary manslaughter was more than 10 years.

Involuntary manslaughter was the right charge because prosecutors didn’t have any evidence that Pattinson killed the girl on purpose, Barber said.

Involuntary manslaughter carried a penalty of up to 25 years in prison before 1996, Barber said, adding that county Prosecutor Dennis Watkins opposed the reduction in the penalty when the Legislature enacted it.

“Do I feel a maximum 10-year sentence is enough for this crime? No, I do not,” Barber said.

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