A Payson woman will spend at least 2.6 years in prison after burning her 6-year-old daughter with cigarettes last year as punishment for wetting the bed.
Gila County Superior Court Judge Peter Cahill said at Monday’s sentencing that although Sarah Michele Ryan, 32, has no other felony convictions, she must spend time in prison due to the cruel nature of the crime.
He said the testimony by Ryan’s daughter and doctors and the jury’s quick return of a guilty verdict demonstrated that Ryan deserves punishment for her crimes, which include child abuse and neglect.
Throughout Monday’s proceeding, Ryan wept quietly in her seat, her shoulder-length dark hair mostly blocking her face.
“This is killing me,” she said when asked to address the court. “I would never hurt my children.”
Several family members and friends testified on Ryan’s behalf, saying she was a good mother, but had fallen apart when the court took her children away from her.
“I don’t see this monster that everyone is painting Sarah out to be,” said one friend.
But the child’s grandmother, Holly Ryan, has watched the girl and her brother since the incident last fall and she testified that Ryan had severely injured her children, both physically and emotionally.
She asked Cahill to sentence Ryan to prison time.
“It is going to be years before they forgive or forget and I hope Sarah gets the same sentence that she gave her children,” Holly said.
In his sentencing, Cahill offered scathing comments. He recounted the testimony given by Ryan’s daughter at trial.
“She knew she was in trouble, she tried, as she told us, to get away, she tried to hide. She tried to escape your cruel punishment, ma’am (for wetting the bed). As she testified, a toy gave her away. Her lammy made noise. So from her perspective … that is why she thinks you found her, because she stepped on her toy,” he said. “Then you burned your beautiful daughter. But, of course, she was brave. She went back to bed. She had no one to help her. She went back probably to her wet bed and she tried to lick the pain away. She tried to blow on it. She didn’t have anybody to help her.”
Ryan reportedly burned her daughter then and other times between Aug. 26 and Sept. 9, 2011. After listening to four days of testimony last month, a jury found Ryan guilty of burning her child after deliberating only 3.5 hours.
At Ryan’s initial sentencing two weeks ago, Ronald DeBrigida, Ryan’s attorney, asked the court for more time so he could gather statements from friends and family on Ryan’s behalf. Reluctantly, Cahill granted DeBrigida an extension.
At Monday’s sentencing, DeBrigida again asked for more time, this time because of unforeseen events. Those events included sheriff’s deputies arresting and jailing Ryan last week for domestic violence, the cancer diagnosis and surgery of her mother, Tamera Lamb and Ryan coming down with pneumonia.
“Mrs. Lamb, Sarah’s mother, was not only wishing to address the court today, but was certainly well aware of the situation. Having her here would have been extremely important to Sarah as well as I believe her right to have people here in support of her and speak on her behalf,” he said. “Given everything that my client and her family have gone through and are continuing to go through, this is just not an appropriate time to go forward with sentencing.”
Deputy County Attorney Ramai Alvarez disagreed and said the victims were here and ready for sentencing. Furthermore, Lamb didn’t attend the Nov. 26 sentencing, although she knew Ryan was scheduled.
Alvarez asked Cahill to reject a probation term and sentence Ryan to the presumptive prison time.
“The level at which it takes somebody to burn their child is just not somebody that should be on probation,” she said. “As I heard somebody else say, it is slow and deliberate torture.”
Ryan’s husband, John Clemonds, said jailing Ryan would only make things worse and further damage her relationship with her children.
Ultimately, Cahill sentenced Ryan to 2.6 years in prison for child abuse and three years in jail and six months of probation for child neglect, with the terms running concurrently.
“So, ma’am, in this case, it is not an issue of how we can help keep you from committing further offenses, but you need to be punished for your crimes,” said Cahill.