SHAWNEE — A Shawnee woman was sentenced to life in prison plus 25 years Wednesday after being found guilty in the 2009 child abuse death of her 6-year-old stepdaughter, Alexis Morris.
In dramatic testimony, Jennifer Jimenez's 12-year-old daughter described for the jury how she walked in on her mom as the woman held Alexis upside down by her ankles and slammed the child's head against the ground as Alexis was crying and screaming, said Pottawatomie County Assistant District Attorney Adam Panter.
That was moments before Alexis was found unconscious and not breathing, the prosecutor said.
Alexis' Sept. 25, 2009, death is the latest in a series of tragic Oklahoma child abuse deaths that have raised serious questions about the quality of work being done by Oklahoma child welfare workers.
In the two years leading up to Alexis' death, the state Department of Human Services received 17 child abuse complaints concerning injuries to Alexis and her younger brother, Jordan, Panter said. The injuries to Jordan ranged from a broken arm to cuts and bruises.
Less severe injuries to Alexis generally were reported, except for the injuries reported after her death, he said.
Complaints came from multiple credible sources including teachers, school counselors and a pediatrician, but Jimenez's two stepchildren were allowed to remain in the home, Panter said.
Jimenez also had two natural children in the home, but the abuse complaints concerned the stepchildren, he said.
Christina Potter, the natural mother of Alexis and Jordan, has filed a federal lawsuit against DHS accusing the agency of failing to properly investigate allegations of abuse against Jimenez and of discouraging the reporting of child abuse complaints by repeatedly saying the complaints were without merit.
Oklahoma City federal judge Stephen P. Friot found problems with the initial lawsuit but has given Potter's attorney a chance to amend it by Aug. 6.
Potter's attorney, Jerry Colclazier, of Seminole, said he has been having trouble getting a report from the Oklahoma Commission on Children and Youth that he believes would bolster his case.
Panter, who prosecuted the criminal case against Jimenez, said a child abuse charge was filed against Jimenez rather than a murder charge because the state medical examiner was unable to definitively determine a cause of death.
The medical examiner ruled the probable cause of death as “undetermined” and the manner of death as “unknown.”
Alexis' medical history included an irregular heartbeat that could have caused her death, the autopsy report indicated.
However, the pathologist noted an examination of the girl's body revealed “multiple contusions and abrasions on the scalp, back, buttocks, right flank, lower extremities and on the face.”
The medical examiner also found blunt force trauma to the top of Alexis' head, Panter said.
Panter said that Alexis and Jordan's father was not charged in connection with the case because all three surviving children who lived in the home testified the abuse happened when he was not present and that they were threatened with harm if they told him about abuse.
Panter described the courtroom atmosphere as “emotionally charged.”
Potter told The Oklahoman last November that her lawsuit against DHS was all about holding the agency accountable and “has nothing to do with the money.”
The lawsuit says that Jimenez previously had two of her own young children die under tragic circumstances.
Donte Jimenez was nearly 3 when he choked to death on a hot dog fed to him by Jimenez in July 2009, records indicate.
“Donte Jimenez had a known eating disorder, which interfered with the child's ability to safely eat food such as hot dogs,” the lawsuit said.
The other child, Eric, was reportedly 3 months old when he died in March 2001 from what the medical examiner described as “undetermined causes.”