Two women who brutally abused a 5-year-old boy will serve lengthy prison sentences under a plea deal reached Friday.
Starkeisha Brown, 26, the child's mother, and 22-year-old Krystal Denise Matthews, Brown's live-in girlfriend, pleaded no contest to corporal injury, dissuading a witness and great bodily injury to a child under 5.
Prosecutors dropped other charges of child abuse, conspiracy, conspiracy to dissuade a witness and torture in exchange for the plea.
In his Compton courtroom, L.A. County Superior Court Judge Jerry Johnson sentenced Brown, who had a prior strike, to 15 years in state prison. Matthews, who had a probation violation, was sentenced to 14 years in state prison.
Prosecutors said they believed the plea was appropriate given the circumstances.
"This plea means several minor children who were witnesses, along with the young victim, are spared the ordeal of appearing in court and facing these two abusers," Deputy Dist. Atty. Adrian G. Roxas said in a prepared statement.
Brown and Matthews abused and starved the boy over several months. Officials launched an investigation last year after a stranger on a Metro platform noticed his poor appearance and tipped off the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services.
In response, Brown and Matthews took someone else's 4-year-old son to a child services office to discuss the allegation of abuse and tried to pass the boy off as Brown's son, officials said. The pair bolted from the office when a worker pressed the pair on whether the boy was really Brown's son.
By the time her actual son was taken to Long Beach Memorial Medical Center by Los Angeles County sheriff's deputies, he was suffering from kidney failure, malnutrition, anemia and an untreated burned hand, officials said. Marks and injuries on the child's body were consistent with being beaten with looped objects and a belt. Cigarette burns covered his genitals.
The case has since ignited calls for reform. After investigating why the boy was not removed from the home sooner, county child welfare workers discovered that various county agencies had interacted with his family more than 100 times. Many of the encounters indicated that the child was at risk, yet an earlier investigation of his safety did not uncover the interactions because of poor communication among county departments.
Los Angeles County supervisors have since pledged to address the issue by building a computer system that would allow investigating social workers to access more information from other agencies in the county.