Traci Carpenter was sentenced to four years with the Department of Corrections on Monday afternoon after pleading guilty to child abuse in the 2006 abuse death of her daughter, 18-month-old Sierra Carpenter. Judge Don Poole said the first 11 months and 29 days must be served in the workhouse, but after that Ms. Carpenter will be eligible for house arrest.
Ms. Carpenter earlier testified against former boyfriend Brian Rutherford, who was charged and tried for the homicide. However, he was not found guilty by a jury.
Ms. Carpenter started dating Rutherford after the tragic accidental death of her first husband, Josh Carpenter, shortly after their marriage. Sierra Carpenter was only two and a half months old at the time.
Ms. Carpenter admitted during her testimony in the Rutherford trial to drug use during this time period. Prosecutors Neal Pinkston and Cameron Williams pointed out that this qualified as prior criminal activity, a potential enhancement to her sentence.
Defense attorney Lee Davis said, "Yes, there was a period of drug abuse after Josh's death...I don't know what it's like to be 18 years old and have your husband die tragically."
He said, "She voluntarily went down at the first blush of this case and cooperated with authorities...for the first several years of this case, she was a witness for the state. She cooperated with the prosecution in the Brian Rutherford case."
Attorney Davis also referred back to medical examiner Dr. Frank King's testimony, where he said a non-medical person might not have known the bruises the young girl sustained needed immediate medical attention.
Dr. King said previously, "To a non-medical person or a person unaware of the pattern of contusions, there's no logical reason to think the child would get sicker."
During the sentencing, the prosecution brought in Josh Carpenter's mother, Janice Carpenter, as a witness.
She addressed the first part of her statement to Ms. Carpenter, saying, "For the past three months, I've written page after page." She said she threw them all out because each attempt only focused on the defendant's "arrogant attitude."
She continued, "If you had not lied...both of our families would not have had to suffer so much." She asked her former daughter-in-law why she would not go before a jury, saying, "I think innocent people don't just plead guilty."
She closed her statement by asking Judge Poole to give the defendant the maximum sentence.
Melvin and Sue Petty, the defendant's parents, testified as witnesses for the defense.
Mrs. Petty said, "She was 17 when Sierra was born, 18 when her husband died, and 19 when Sierra died...Traci is a wonderful mother. She loves her baby so much. Traci was a little immature when she had Sierra but she took wonderful care of her. She loved that baby above all else."
Mr. Petty asked Judge Poole for leniency. He said, "You can't outrun a broken heart...I don't know that any of us will ever get over it."
Traci Carpenter herself testified as the final witness.
She said, "I wish so badly I could go back or that I had known what a danger Brian was. I'm full of hurt, regret, anger, and guilt. Guilt because I failed my daughter as a mother. I know she had to wonder where I was and why I wasn't there...I was supposed to protect her from evil - not leave her with it. My heart will always be broken and a part of me missing."
She also told the court, "My life has changed since 2006." The defendant now has a young daughter with her current husband and two stepdaughters.
She said, "I love being her mommy and I vowed to never make the same mistakes...I've learned so many hard lessons in the past 10 years of my life."
Judge Poole said, "All of us I think are horrified at the criminal conduct that happened in regard to this defendant's 18-month-old child."
He said, "The person who did it may have gone free, and that's sad."
However, he said of the defendant, "I don't think she was a very good mother. She can do better, she's young. She has a second chance."
He told her, "You've got a chance in life that a lot of people don't have. You've got a chance to be a wonderful mother to a two-year-old child."