BRISTOW — The mother of Kelsey Smith-Briggs sobbed, "I don't understand. Help me,” in court Wednesday after jurors found her guilty of allowing the girl to be abused.
Jurors chose a punishment of 27 years in prison for Raye Dawn Smith. Formal sentencing is Aug. 23. She lowered her head into her hands and wept as the trial judge, Paul Vassar, read the verdict — guilty of enabling child abuse. Jurors deliberated about two hours and 35 minutes, asking the judge at one point in a note if they had to be unanimous on punishment. The judge replied yes. One juror, James Barnett, 70, of Sapulpa, said of the punishment, "Some wanted more and some wanted less. This is a number we could agree on. ... We hated to do what we had to do. It was a tough deal.” Smith, 27, was handcuffed behind her back after the verdict was read at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday and was led away by sheriff's deputies. She told her attorney, "I don't understand. I love my baby.”
System called into questionKelsey, 2, died Oct. 11, 2005, at her home near Meeker after months of suffering broken bones, bruises and other injuries. The tragedy exposed serious flaws in how the state protects children because, at the time of her death, both the state Department of Human Services and a judge were overseeing her care because of abuse allegations. "There had to be times when you said, ‘How does this happen? How does the system fall apart?'” prosecutor Pattye High told jurors in closing arguments. Smith was convicted of enabling child abuse, accused of allowing her then-husband, Michael Lee Porter, to injure the child. Prosecutors allege Porter, 27, abused the child and eventually sexually assaulted and murdered her and that Smith did nothing to stop it. "It was pretty obvious she knew what was going on and seemingly didn't do anything about it,” said the juror, Barnett. Kelsey's father, Lance Briggs, called the prison sentence fitting. "I was relieved,” he said. "What this was, right here today, was justice for my daughter.” Briggs, who was returning from military duty when Kelsey died, said, "The horrible, horrible part is she could have prevented it. She's over there crying when they read the verdict. ... She could be out playing with Kelsey right now and not in handcuffs.” District Attorney Richard Smothermon said, "I always knew if we got in front of 12 people and were able to put the speculation aside and put the true evidence out that the jury would see it the way they did.” He said the verdict tells parents that they have to step up if they see abuse. "I hope somewhere she's smiling down. I hope she is,” the district attorney said of Kelsey.
Prosecutors cite accountabilitySmith was charged with child abuse or enabling child abuse. Jurors were told they could only convict her of one of the crimes. Her defense attorney, Steve Huddleston, said he was shocked at the outcome. "I wouldn't have expected it in a hundred years. ... There was a lot of pressure to prosecute this girl. It came from the media. It came from the Briggs family. ... She wasn't going to plead. She didn't feel that she did anything wrong, and we took it to trial. I totally disagree with the verdict.” He said the family must decide whether to appeal. The defense attorney said issues on appeal could include the judge's refusal to let Smith call certain witnesses. Smith had faced up to life in prison. Kelsey's stepfather, Porter, is serving 30 years in prison. He once was charged with sexually abusing and murdering Kelsey but pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of enabling child abuse after reaching a deal with prosecutors. He and Smith wed on April 18, 2005, and divorced after Kelsey died. Smith wept during closing arguments as prosecutors said she was just as responsible for Kelsey's death as Porter. "Tears do not absolve you of your accountability,” Smothermon told jurors in closing arguments.
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Lance Briggs, father of Kelsey Smith-Briggs, makes a statement Wednesday outside the Bristow Municipal Building while his mother Kathie Briggs, center, and sister Shirica Howard, left, look on after a jury returned its verdict in the child-abuse case of Raye Dawn Smith, Kelsey's mother. BY JIM BECKEL, THE OKLAHOMAN