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. "The path of inaction caused Kelsey Shelton Smith-Briggs to be murdered. You can't ignore that. ... This child was murdered. This child was murdered because her mother allowed it to happen.” The district attorney said Smith was on notice her husband was hurting Kelsey, pointing to testimony that Kelsey in May 2005 said to her mother, "Daddy Mike hurt my head.” He also pointed to testimony that Smith had called her mother in the weeks before Kelsey's death with concerns after the stepfather taped Kelsey's eyes shut while playing. Smith's mother testified earlier, "We was starting to watch him.”
Defense tried to raise doubtsJurors in the trial heard from 22 prosecution witnesses, 10 defense witnesses and two prosecution rebuttal witnesses. Smith did not testify. The prosecution witnesses included Porter, who denied hurting Kelsey and blamed his ex-wife for the death. Porter also said he saw Smith abuse Kelsey three times. Jurors learned during the trial that Kelsey suffered a broken collarbone in January 2005 and broken legs in April 2005. She repeatedly was found to have bruises on her face and body and twice bumps around her nose. DHS first became involved after her stepmother on Jan. 14, 2005, found bruises on her body and face and red prickly marks on her rear. Her defense attorney, Huddleston, told jurors Wednesday there was no evidence Smith was responsible for the injuries. He also said she would never have let her then-husband hurt the girl. "Ladies and gentlemen, this case, from start to finish, is full of doubt,” the defense attorney said. "I still have a lot of questions. And, what do questions lead to? Questions lead to doubt.” Huddleston told jurors Smith was only charged because of pressure from the Briggs family, particularly Kelsey's outspoken grandmother, Kathie Briggs. He said Kathie Briggs even met with Porter to try to get evidence against Smith. He showed jurors a photo of the mother playing with a smiling Kelsey and another of Kelsey sleeping on the mother's stomach. He asked jurors if Smith looked in the photos like a woman who would allow her child to be injured. The defense attorney said, "She has been through enough. ... It is time to stop it. It is time to draw the line in the sand and say, ‘It stops here.' ... I need you to stand up for her. ... Stand up. Stop it. Stop this stuff now.”
Source of broken legs was unclearThe defense attorney said in his closing argument that the evidence of who broke Kelsey's legs was particularly unclear. He pointed to defense testimony that Kelsey sprained her right ankle at the zoo on April 14, 2005, but walked on her left leg at a slumber party, the courthouse and the mall until going to Kathie Briggs. She was diagnosed with two broken legs on April 25, 2005, when she couldn't walk after returning from the grandmother, according to the defense testimony. The district attorney conceded he couldn't say who broke the legs. However, Smothermon told jurors they could focus on testimony about Kelsey's bruised and injured behind in January 2005 and have enough evidence to convict Smith of child abuse. A former boss and a former co-worker testified Smith admitted spanking Kelsey over a diaper with a hairbrush. The trial was moved from Chandler because of pretrial publicity and lasted eight days. Security was tight. Spectators had to pass through a metal detector, and sheriff's deputies wore bulletproof vests.
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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