By LIBBY CLUETT
PALO PINTO – A jury of eight men and four women Wednesday found Willie Lee Ray Collins guilty of first-degree felony injury to a child by omission, causing serious bodily injury, according to Palo Pinto County District Attorney Mike Burns. The jury then sentenced Collins to 23 years in prison and a $10,000 fine.
This is the first of two cases this week against the parents of an infant boy. Last July, when the child was 5-months-old, law enforcement and Child Protective Services intervened and sent the baby to Cook Children's Hospital by air ambulance. Burns referred to the child as severely malnourished and dehydrated
The condition of the child started an investigation that ended with both parents being arrested two days later. They both are standing trial in two separate cases, in front of two separate juries.
For Collins' type of injury-to-a-child crime, Burns said the range of punishment was 5-99 years in prison to life, and a maximum $10,000 fine.
“Under the parole laws in Texas for this offense, a person has to serve one half of the sentence, day-for-day, until they can apply for parole,” he added.
Burns told the Index he asked jurors to consider what the Thursday newspaper headline would be for this trial.
“I had asked the jury to consider the severity of the child – there was a risk of death – and consider [the defendant's] wanton disregard of the health and well being of his baby,” he said. “I asked the jury to not give him less than 40 years.
“I'm certainly pleased that the jury took their role seriously. The message is, 'love your children, don't hurt them. This office will vigorously prosecute anyone who hurts a child in this community,'” added Burns.
The 5-month-old involved was severely malnourished and dehydrated when officials found him at his family's home on Kite Road, said Burns.
“This was a case where the crime was failing to act,” Burns explained, adding that instead of hitting a child, this was about failure to provide “adequate food and medical care for the child.”
Burns said testimony revealed the infant “weighed 9 ounces more than he weighed at birth. He was 7 pounds, 14 ounces, and was 7 pounds, 5 ounces when born.”
The baby had a blood sugar level of 27, Burns said, based on testimony in the trial. He added that the normal range is 60-100.
“He would have died if law enforcement had not found him,” said the D.A.
Recent photos and testimony from case workers showed that the now 13-month-old boy has adequate fat on his body; however, Burns said doctors called him “developmentally delayed.”
“At 13 months, he can't crawl, he can't sit alone without falling over and he has problems with the muscles in his neck,” Burns explained, noting that he received physical therapy while in foster care.
“One of doctors told us, in the investigation stage in July, his little brain had not grown any since birth,” Burns told the Index. “The prognosis is guarded, but good if he continues physical therapy. The long-term effects of severe malnutrition are unknown.”
A sentencing trial for Collins' wife and the baby's mother, Amanda Rena Winters-Collins, will began this morning.
Burns said the mother “already pleaded guilty Monday morning, prior to start of jury selection,” which he said means she will have a jury-assessed punishment by a separate jury.