March 27, 2014

Vermont Senate panels look at Poultney girl's death reveals errors

3-27-2014 Vermont:

Mother should have been on sex offender registry, Senate panel hears

New questions surfaced Wednesday in the state’s handling of the case of 2-year-old Dezirae Sheldon, who died last month from alleged physical abuse at the hands of her stepfather.

The Poultney girl’s mother, Sandra Eastman, should have been listed on the state’s online publicly accessible sex offender registry for an unrelated 2008 conviction, but a clerical error in her criminal file downgraded the level of her conviction, legislators investigating the case learned Wednesday.

Whether that error would have altered decisions to allow Eastman to maintain custody of Dezirae is unknown, but a state official called the error “significant.”

Eastman’s daughter died in February from injuries suffered allegedly at the hand of the girl’s stepfather, Dennis Duby of Poultney. He has been charged with murder, accused of fracturing the girl’s skull.

The case raised questions about why the state had allowed Eastman to have custody of the girl after Eastman was convicted last year of failing to provide prompt medical treatment for her daughter’s broken leg.

A special Senate panel formed to study whether the case indicates changes are needed in state law to better protect children. State police, the Department for Children & Families and the Vermont Citizens Advisory Board are also investigating the case.

Sen. Richard Sears, D-Bennington, co-chairman of that panel, said at a meeting Wednesday that he plans to seek subpoena power — a rarity in the Legislature that would require approval from the full Senate — to obtain confidential records in the case from DCF, state police and the state Corrections Department. Those records would include caseworker notes on how Dezirae’s custody case was handled. The records would remain confidential, Sears said, but the panel would be able to review them. ..Continued.. by Terri Hallenbeck

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