In the murder case that sparked a public outcry against the state's child-welfare agency, an Oklahoma City man admitted Friday he beat to death his 5-year-old daughter, Serenity Deal.
Sean Devon Brooks, 32, pleaded guilty to first-degree murder and was sentenced to life in prison. He will not be eligible for parole until he is almost 70, a prosecutor said.
“In a situation like this, justice is really hollow because we can never bring back Serenity,” Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater said. “I'm glad he took responsibility for his actions.”
The Department of Human Services came under intense scrutiny after Serenity died June 4 from an assault. She died of a head injury less than a month after she began living full time with her father in Oklahoma City at the recommendation of DHS child-welfare workers.
She was placed with her father from foster care, even though she was injured twice in January during overnight visits with him. The second time, she came back to a foster home with black eyes and a swollen and bruised face, records show.
DHS admits mistakes in Serenity's case
Serenity's name for a time this year became recognized publicly as almost synonymous with DHS problems in a way not seen since Kelsey Smith-Briggs, 2, died in 2005.
DHS officials acknowledged child-welfare workers made mistakes in the handling of Serenity's placement. DHS commissioners in September formed a special committee to review her death and other child deaths.
They acted after Gov. Mary Fallin complained of “the appearance of lax oversight on the part of DHS commissioners.”
The father, who worked as a motel clerk, had denied to police that he hurt the girl. He gave no explanation at his sentencing Friday for why he killed her. A police detective plans to try to interview him again next week.
Brooks also showed no visible signs of remorse during the brief sentencing. In the paperwork for his guilty plea, he wrote he committed murder by beating his daughter on the head. He also admitted he did not seek medical attention for the head injury.
His punishment was the outcome of a plea agreement. Brooks waived all his appeal rights.
The district attorney said Serenity's maternal grandparents were comfortable with the plea agreement because it gave them some finality.