The Eastern New Mexico News - Serving Clovis, Portales and the Surrounding Communities

Jury finds daycare workers guilty

 

February 6, 2019

David Grieder

Mary and Sandi Taylor face up to 36 years in prison.

PORTALES — Daycare workers who admitted to leaving two toddlers in a hot car in July 2017 were found guilty Tuesday of charges that could send them to prison for up to 36 years.

Mary and Sandi Taylor were immediately remanded into custody following the Roosevelt County jury’s guilty verdict, which came about four hours after it began deliberating.

The courtroom filled with tears on both sides when the verdict was announced.

“(I’m) very glad to see we’re taking child abuse in this community very seriously, even if it’s reckless rather than intentional,” Prosecutor Andrea Reeb said.

Defense Attorney Tye Harmon said he intends to appeal the verdict, arguing “We do not believe they (jurors) were properly instructed.”

He said he and his clients were “extremely disappointed.”

Sentencing is scheduled to take place within 30 days.

The mother-daughter pair that operated Taylor’s Tots were charged with abuse of a child (results in death) and abuse of a child (results in great bodily harm).

Both were found guilty on all charges.

Prosecutors said Maliyah Jones and Aubriauna Loya, both under the age of 2, were left inside the vehicle for about 2 hours and 40 minutes with no air conditioning. Temperatures outside exceeded 90 degrees, testimony showed.

Maliyah was dead on arrival at the Portales hospital. Aubriauna survived, but was seriously injured and continues to receive treatment.

Erika Tafoya, Maliyah’s mother, said she was “so happy” with the jury’s verdict.

“We know it’ll never bring her back, but at least she deserves (accountability from the Taylors).”

Kristen Ashmore, Aubriauna’s mother, said she felt relief at the verdict.

“I couldn’t stop shaking. I was scared,” she said.

Attorneys presented opening arguments on Jan. 30 and wrapped up with closing arguments on Tuesday morning.

Neither Taylor took the stand.

District Attorney Reeb asked the jury if Mary and Sandi Taylor really could have loved the children they left in the vehicle after a field trip to a park.

Courtroom observers listened attentively first as Judge Donna Mowrer read the jury their instructions and then as attorneys spent almost three hours with concluding arguments, retreading testimony and evidence from the preceding days.

“I’m not saying this is easy,” Reeb told the jury. She pointed to the statements noted many times from the Taylors, that they didn’t mean to leave the two young girls locked in their car after returning from a hot summer afternoon field trip with 10 other children, that they forgot to do a head count, that they “loved those girls.”

“But do they love them? When you love someone, don’t you put their needs first?” Reeb continued. “Did they show that love by not checking on them for two hours and 40 minutes? You should have a question about that.”

Reeb emphasized a “perfect storm” of careless behavior leading to the death of 20-month old Maliyah and prolonged hospitalization of Aubriauna, a month from her second birthday at the time of the July 25, 2017, incident at the Taylors’ now-shuttered residential daycare in Portales.

She outlined the ingredients of that “recipe for disaster” in a slideshow for the jury, arguing the Taylors were “cutting corners” on regulations from the state’s Children, Youth and Families Department: they were “skimping on car seats,” taking field trips without thorough clearance, failing to observe the strict ratio limits of daycare provider to children.

Not only that, she continued, but the Taylors gave inconsistent and inaccurate statements regarding the incident circumstances and timeline when speaking with first responders. That fact alone, she said, was evidence they knew they’d done wrong.

“Human nature and your common sense tells you, when you know you have messed up, you don’t want to be honest as to what occurred,” read one of the slides Reeb showed the jury.

This was not an accident, she said, because “a true accident is not foreseeable. Reckless disregard is foreseeable.”

The Taylors’ defense attorney Tye Harmon again emphasized his clients’ lack of awareness in leaving the children behind and pushed back on what he called “a desperate attempt by the state to try to prove that this was not an accident.”

If there were inconsistencies or inaccurate statements during the first response, Harmon argued, it was also a chaotic and highly emotional scene. Tremors of that panic, after Sandi Taylor first discovered the children slack in their seats, boomed again through the court Friday morning on lapel footage from responding officers. As for discrepancies in following regulations, Harmon asserted CYFD was “not doing the steps they’re supposed to do” and that there was “no proof that Sandi and Mary Taylor were ever provided policies and procedures.”

Most importantly, Harmon maintained, there was “no evidence that (the Taylors) voluntarily failed to do something” and “you can’t disregard something you’re not aware of.”

Both attorneys stressed the jury instructions, which are almost identical for each of the first-degree felony charges the Taylors both faced: reckless abuse of a child (results in death) and abuse of a child (results in great bodily harm).

A key item of those instructions, necessary for a conviction, is that the accused’s actions are “more than merely negligent or careless” and that they “caused and permitted a substantial and unjustifiable risk.”

Reeb argued the Taylors met that criteria by flouting CYFD guidelines, while Harmon insisted “the only answer in this matter is accident” since “it has to be a conscious disregard.”

In video of an interview with Portales police detectives taken the evening of the incident and played during trial, Sandi Taylor said she doesn’t know why she and her mother, between the two of them, failed to account for the two children they left behind.

“I forgot those two babies in there. I did,” she said. “There’s nothing to say but that.”

 
 

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