By LIBBY CLUETT
PALO PINTO – After a full day of testimony Thursday, focused on assessing punishment for Amanda Rachelle Winters-Collins, who had pleaded guilty Monday to injury to a child, 12 jurors sentenced the 21-year-old mother to 50 years in prison for injury to a child and fined her $5,000.
The eight-women and four-men jury panel heard testimony all day, ending with closing remarks in the late afternoon. According to Palo Pinto County District Attorney Mike Burns, the jury took 20 minutes to deliberate on their sentence.
This was the second of two jury trials this week taking place in District Judge Mike Moore's courtroom and involving criminal cases against the parents of a 5-month old boy, who was found by Children's Protective Services last July in a severely malnourished condition.
On July 17, law enforcement and Children's Protective Services responded to a Kite Road travel trailer, in which Winters-Collins and Willie Lee Ray Collins, 23, were living with their two children, the 5-month-old infant son and an older baby girl, according to testimony this week.
In both trials, Burns showed photographs of what responders with CPS, emergency medical services and law enforcement saw that July day. Images of the baby boy showed a small infant child whose skin appeared darkened and bluish-gray. His abdomen was extended and his chest was sunken, with seemingly each individual rib showing.
Mineral Wells Fire Department Capt. Sam Streun testified in the father's trial on Tuesday, that he was part of the EMS crew dispatched on July 17 for “dehydration of an infant.”
Streun said when he arrived at the scene, he met a CPS investigator at the driveway to the property and she was holding the infant in a blanket.
“When we uncovered him is when we saw [his] boney structure and sunken face, eyes and hands,” Streun told jurors Tuesday. “We could tell he was dehydrated and malnourished and … needed to go to Fort Worth in the condition he was in,” which he added was life threatening.
He said the child was “very actively sucking on his hand. He didn't cry when we put the IV in. The only time he cried was when I took his hand out of his mouth.”
Today, the child is in foster care and is a plump, happy 13-month-old baby, according to prosecution witness and Victims Assistance Coordinator Adena Morris, who took pre-trial photos of child in March.
According to Burns and testimony this week, the family came to Palo Pinto County from Illinois in April of 2012, with both children. He said the father got a job in a Weatherford superstore and Winters-Collins “stayed home to allegedly take care of the kids.”
“Basically what happened, CPS got an anonymous call on the Child Abuse hotline because a picture of [the baby boy] had been posted on Facebook,” Burns said. While he said the infant didn't look the same in the Facebook pictures as he did in the photos he showed jurors from July 17, he said, “He looked mighty poor.”
For the mother's trial, Burns said he called witnesses from CPS, the Palo Pinto County Sheriff's Office and Texas ranger Tony Bradford, who also responded to the scene on July 17 and questioned the parents.
Burns told the Index that there were three witnesses for the defense, including William Flynn, a Dallas forensic psychologist who testified that he assessed Winters-Collins one month ago.
“He said it was his professional opinion the she suffered from depression and suffered from PTSD,” he said.
The defense also called Jim French, the director of the Palo Pinto County Community Supervision and Corrections Department, who Burns said testified about the probation department and options regarding probation.
The defendant also took the stand.
“In a nutshell, she testified that her husband, her father-in-law and her husband's aunt forced her to come to Texas against her will and threatened her that if she fed the baby, they would beat her up,” Burns said. “She was afraid if she gave the baby a bottle they would beat her up. That's what she said.”
“On cross examination, she admitted that she was home 14 hours a day while her husband was at work – with transportation and a cell phone and was alone,” he added. “And she admitted that she never took action to drive anywhere for help.”
While jurors on Thursday sentenced Winters-Collins, who had already pleaded guilty, to 50 years and a $5,000 fine, on Wednesday, a separate jury found the father guilty and sentenced him to 23 years in prison and a $10,000 fine. Burns explained for this type of injury-to-a-child crime, the possible punishment was five-99 years or life in prison and a maximum of a $10,000 fine.
When asked what he thought the jury deliberated on mostly, Burns said, “I'm hoping what played most to them was the thought that this is unacceptable conduct for parents in caring for their children.”
“This verdict exemplifies the strong feelings held by members of our community regarding the protection of our children,” he said. “And it serves to continue to make me proud of the citizens of Palo Pinto County.”
“It also serves as a reminder to parents to love and protect their children,” he added. “If you find yourself in a situation that you are down and out and have no money and have no hope, there are two digits to remember [on the phone] – a nine and two ones.”
“If you are an abused spouse, they will take you to the shelter. If you have no money and no place to go, the police will help you. If your child is starving to death, there is the Safe Harbor Act or call the CPS hotline,” Burns advised. “There are a myriad of other services in Palo Pinto County. That's where the charitable nature of the county's citizens are put into action.”
Mom of malnourished child took stand in sentencing trial
By LIBBY CLUETT
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