Limestone County mom sentenced to 40 years for scalding kids in bathtub

(Source: WAFF)
Updated: Nov. 13, 2018 at 6:56 PM CST
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LIMESTONE COUNTY, AL (WAFF) - A Limestone County mother has learned her fate in prison after admitting that she placed both of her small children in a scalding bath as a form of punishment.

A sentencing hearing for Amanda Reyer, 25, lasted all day Tuesday in the Limestone County Courthouse. The judge made his decision shortly before 3 p.m.

Reyer was sentenced to 40 years. She receives credit for time served. She’s been in the Limestone County jail for three years since the 2015 incident.

Circuit Judge Robert Baker teared up as he delivered her punishment, saying, ““I’m a hard fellow to shock. But you did it.”

Baker said he wanted to send a message about the serious consequences that come with hurting children.

He told Reyer: “This is not a situation where you didn’t know what a medication would do… Hot water is hot. It hurts. It burns.”

Before the decision was announced, Reyer had asked the judge for a lenient prison sentence, which was not granted.

Limestone County District Attorney Brian C.T. Jones said this about the sentencing: "We’re extremely pleased with the outcome of this case. I want to thank all of the medical professionals that took care of these children. I want to thank family members, the current caregivers, law enforcement. The entire system came together to get this case ready for prosecution."

“This is the kind of case that haunts people at night. A lot of the people involved and the children involved can know when they go to bed, that this woman is going to prison for the next 40 years,” he added.

The kids were placed into a tub with running water in June of 2015. The water burned both of them, causing second and third degree burns all over her daughter and severe burns from the waist down on her son.

She cried as experts outlined the injuries the victims sustained at the hands of Reyer and her boyfriend.

Dr. Melissa Peters with Children’s Hospital of Alabama in Birmingham was on the stand for several hours. She testified that Reyer’s daughter Adriauna, who was two years old at the time of the incident, went on a ventilator for respiratory failure and needed skin graft surgeries.

According to doctors, the child suffered burns to 70-80% of her body. She was severely burned from her shoulders down because almost all of her body went into the water.

Dr. Peters testified that the girl was dipped into the scalding water at least twice at the family’s mobile home on Tillman Mill Road in the Owens community. It’s called forced immersion when someone is physically placed down in hot water.

Doctors also noted bruising to one of the girl’s ears and that her head was shaved.

Reyer’s son Cameron, who was five at the time, suffered burns to his lower extremities, about 15% of his body. He was placed in the bathtub by Reyer’s boyfriend, Derrick Defoe.

Cameron’s head was also shaved and his lower left incisor tooth was missing.

Reyer says she pulled the kids out of the bath right away when she realized they were being scalded and did not intend for her son and daughter to be harmed.

In July 2018, she pleaded guilty to two counts of aggravated child abuse.

She asked the judge to take into consideration that she’s been in jail for three years. She hoped to receive a suspended or split sentence that allows her to be on probation.

Circuit Judge Robert Baker spent time looking at dozens of pictures of injuries to both children on Tuesday.

Court documents provided details of the offense on June 13, 2015. .

Adriauna was taken to Huntsville Hospital, then to Children’s Hospital in Birmingham, then to Shriners Hospital for Children in Cincinnati.

Reyer gave a statement to law enforcement acknowledging her role in the incident and the events that led to her children’s injuries. She told authorities that the children had been acting out during the day in question. She claimed she was fearful of the punishment that would be given to them by her live in boyfriend, Derrick Defoe. She said she had recently seen a TV show which a child counselor/psychologist had recommended giving the children a cold shower or bath as a form of punishment. She decided to attempt the same punishment technique using warm water rather than cold water.

She went on to explain that in the weeks prior to the incident, her family had moved out of their home due to ongoing conflicts between her and Defoe. When they reconciled, they all returned to the trailer and continued with their previous lease. Reyer says the property management had cleaned the carpets in the trailer and as a result, she believes the temperature setting of the water heater had been turned up. She told police she had been able to use the hot water in the trailer without the mixing of any cold water with the hot water setting being low enough not to scald. She had grown accustomed to using full strength hot water out of the faucet with only minimal cold water mixed in for the preparation of the baths for the children.

On the day of the incident, she said she made the bath for the children and placed her daughter in the tub at the same time Defoe placed her son Cameron in the tub.

“Upon realizing that the children were being scalded by the water, the mother immediately pulled the children out of the water and began determining the need for medical treatment for the children,” her attorney wrote in a sentencing memorandum.

Dr. Peters testified that the burns caused the children to have tremendous pain and they required surgeries and then wound care with painful debridement procedures.

Bradley Frederick, who at the time was a social worker with Limestone County DHR, worked the case and testified on Tuesday. He got a call about a child burned to 80% of her body and was told that the mother said it was an accident.

While the girl was being flown to Birmingham, Frederick was informed that there were two other children in the home so he went there.

Cameron had already been taken to the hospital but Reyer’s 18-month-old daughter was there and was not harmed.

Frederick went to Shriner’s Hospital where Adriauna was undergoing multiple surgeries. Her condition declined, and she went into cardiac arrest, he said on the stand.

Ann Chandler, who worked as a foster care case worker in Limestone County in 2015, also testified during the hearing. She responded to the Reyer children being burned. She stayed at Children’s Hospital with Cameron for a few days and he underwent a skin graft surgery. He was discharged in July of 2015.

Chandler also went to Shriners Hospital for Children in Cincinnati where Adriauna was in a medically paralyzed state following the incident. She went into respiratory failure at one point and underwent skin graft surgeries.

In August, she was still on a ventilator but she was able to start physical therapy and interacting with hospital staff.

Chandler took videos at the hospital of Adriauna receiving physical therapy and other treatments and those clips were shown to the judge. The footage could not been seen by the rest of the courtroom but the child could be heard gasping and crying.

She was discharged in September of 2015, but Chandler testified that Adriauna will continue to be a patient at Shriners until she is an adult because so much of her body has skin grafts, she will need more procedures as she grows. She also suffered nerve damage to her legs and she’s had multiple surgeries so she could walk.

Limestone County District Attorney Brian C.T. Jones asked Chandler is she had ever seen a child injured to that magnitude before, to which Chandler responded: “No.”

Chandler spoke to Reyer about what happened and Reyer asked if she could get her youngest child back since she didn’t get hurt.

When asked about the kids’ heads being shaved, Reyer said they got in trouble because Cameron had gotten scissors and cut Adriauna’s hair.

Chandler said Reyer did not ask about the condition of her children or how they were doing and showed no emotion.

Reyer was asked about a choking incident in which Defoe choked Cameron, but Reyer said she didn’t consider it choking because the little boy’s feet never left ground.

Reyer told Chandler that Defoe was cutting skin off Cameron’s legs after the scalding incident.

When Adriauna was discharged from Shriners Hospital, she was placed in the care of her paternal grandmother who spent time at the hospital learning about her care and what she needed.

She went back to the facility at least one a month in the beginning of her recovery. She came home in full compression garments and she was in a wheelchair at first. She progressed to a walker and she is walking now on her own with a limp.

She is left with lots of scars from all of the skin graft surgeries.

“From the neck down, her skin looked like a patchwork quilt,” Chandler testified on the stand.

Reyer’s attorney, E. Patrick Hill, countered, saying she did ask how her kids were doing.

He also asked Chandler if she received any information that Reyer was the victim of domestic violence at the hands of Defoe. Chandler responded that she did not.

Lieutenant Johnny Morell with the Limestone County Sheriff’s Office testified that he spoke to Derrick Defoe at the family’s mobile home after the scalding incident.

He said Adriauna accidentally fell in a bucket of water. Officials asked Defoe to show them the bucket and as they were walking through the house, they saw Cameron on couch shaking and noticed that his legs appeared to be severely burned.

They all went back outside, cuffed Defoe and detained him and got medical attention for Cameron.

“There was no bucket to be found,” the lieutenant said.

Amanda came back to the scene and said she wouldn’t fly in the helicopter with Adriauna and didn’t have gas money to get Birmingham.

She did not call 911 and took one child to the hospital and left the other on the couch, investigators aid. She did not go to a closer hospital, driving her daughter all the way to Huntsville, so as not to “raise suspicions” in Limestone County, authorities said.

Defoe told them that Reyer had been yelling at the kids all day and they were playing and broke the bed. As punishment, they were placed in the hot water. When Reyer put Adriauna in the water, she jumped out and Reyer picked her up and put her right back in, Defoe said.

Lieutenant Morell also acknowledged during his testimony that Reyer had been previously arrested for leaving Cameron in a hot car.

Jay Stinnett, investigator for the Limestone County Sheriff’s Office processed the scene, the trailer where the family lived in at the time of the scalding incident.

Investigators found hot water heater set at 150 degrees and found skin in different locations in the home.

Stinnett got a statement from Reyer on June 15. She said she put her daughter in the tub and she tried to get out and she put her back in and then put her in the shower with cold water.

She told Stinnett that she was trying to get the child to potty train and that it was a form of punishment. She said didn’t realize how bad it was burning her son and daughter until she saw their skin coming off.

He said there was never a determination as to why the hot water heater was turned up so high.

Reyer’s attorney pointed out that she is operating at borderline mental function, with an IQ of 76 or below, and said she did not have ability to understand the seriousness of what she was doing.

She worked at the Limestone Correctional Facility as a dispatcher. She had been employed there for 28 months prior to her arrest.

The district attorney indicated that all employees of the sheriff’s office undergo psych evaluations.

Tammy Kauffman, who rented mobile home to Reyer and Defoe, said the couple paid rent on time every month and she never knew that they had moved out or split up.

No work was done on carpets during that time, she told the court.

The cleaning was conducted prior to them moving in to the mobile home in March 2015 when it was prepared for rental.

The hot water heater was not touched or turned up for carpet cleaning, she added. It was set at the standard 125 degrees.

Huntsville Hospital staffers also testified. One said that Reyer told her that she was cleaning with hot water in the tub and that she stepped away for a moment and that her daughter had fallen into the water.

In the most emotional testimony of the day, Adriauna’s grandmother talked in detail about her grueling recovery and the special care she requires for her burns.

“It was excruciating pain just to put her garments. It was hard for me because I could not stand to see her in that type of pain,” she said.

Nikki Smith, Cameron’s foster mother, testified that he suffers from anger, nightmares, anxiety, and depression and receives regular psychiatric care.

“He makes some progress and then regresses some,” she said.

He asks if his real mom is still in jail.

“He said her and Derrick punished them because they messed up the bed so that’s why they were put in the tub,” Smith said about the one time Cameron has discussed the incident with her.

The Smith family is seeking to adopt Cameron and they are going through the process to do so.

Reyer’s sister was next on the stand and told the court that Reyer had no idea about the hot water.

“She couldn’t tell you what a hot water heater looks like,” she stated. “Mandy has a limited mental capacity….She was a good mom. She loved her kids. She was more of a child with a child, but she put them before herself.”

She described Reyer’s relationship with Defoe as volatile and that she suffered verbal, physical and sexual abuse.

She asked the judge to take things into consideration, stressing that her sister never had the mental capacity to do the proper parenting.

“What happened is a horrible thing, but she did not do this with the intent to harm these children. She does not have that in her. She is responsible but it wasn’t out of malice,” she added.

Prosecutors said Reyer left Cameron in a hot car at the Walmart in Athens on a 90-degree day and he was found by a Good Samaritan.

A year after that happened, prosecutors said she left Cameron and Adriauna in a hot car. Neighbors intervened.

Other family members and coworkers testified that Reyer loved her kids and would never intentionally place them in harm’s way. They also discussed her limited mental capacity.

Amanda Reyer testified late Tuesday afternoon.

She spoke to the judge, asking him “to give me a chance to prove myself on probation with a suspended or split sentence. I want to prove that all of this is not who I really am and I want to redeem myself if possible.”

She said she never wanted her children to get hurt and that hearing about all of the details of the incident was like “ripping old wounds and pouring salt into them. It’s hard to watch and to see and to listen to and knowing that I’m responsible. It’s a shock to me and I can’t take it back. There was no malicious intent.”

She told the judge that she was negligent and irresponsible and failed her kids and that’s something she will have to live with the rest of her life and so will her kids.

“I am very sorry. If could do over, I would put myself headfirst in that bathtub before I let my babies get hurt,” she testified.

She talked about her relationship with Defoe, saying she would hit her and force her to have sex with him.

She was concerned about what he would do if he were the one to discipline the children and that she was just trying to appease him without harming her children and it backfired.

She was asked why she didn’t test the water.

“I have no valid excuse. I have no valid answer because there is none. There’s no excuse. All I can say is that I wasn’t thinking,” she said.

She testified that she has considered suicide, and has been placed on suicide watch twice in jail. She’s been receiving treatment and taking medication.

“Your honor, I take full responsibly for what happened. I regret it. I’m sorry and I wish I could tell my kids that. All I’m asking you today is to not judge me for the worst day of our lives but for my character, who I am,” she added.

She admitted she put them in the hot water as punishment but did not know it would burn them.

“There were never supposed to be any marks....I had the shock of my life. I didn’t want Derrick to do something worse. It went absolutely wrong," she told the judge.

Before revealing her 40 year prison sentence, Judge Baker asked Reyer to explain to him what happened in her own words.

She told him that she dropped her daughter into the water and that she tried to crawl out twice, but fell back into the bath.

“Your baby was cooking. What were you thinking,” the judge asked Reyer.

“I wasn’t thinking. I didn’t know that’s what was happening. I never touched the water. If I had of, I would have never done that," she responded.

When she picked the child up, her skin was coming off and she was screaming.

Reyer’s attorney had no comment coming out of court Tuesday night. Derrick Defoe’s trial is set for February. He’s charged with two counts of attempted murder, two counts of aggravated child abuse and two counts of domestic violence in connection with the scalding incident.

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