VERNAL — The girl's request was a simple one. What she was asking for, however, typically isn't allowed under the rules.
Prisons are all about rules.
"Can my mom look back at me?" she asked in a voice that trembled slightly.
"Technically she's not supposed to make eye contact with any of you," Utah Board of Pardons and Parole vice chairwoman Angela Micklos said.
"But this will be the first time I can actually look her in the eye without her hurting me," the girl explained.
"Just for a brief second, and it's only because you want her to," Micklos said.
Her request granted, the girl faced Michele Juan Napolitano and made her declaration of independence.
"Mom, this is the first time I've been able to look you in the face without — I'm still scared — but you can't hit me, you can't hurt me. And don't think that you're ever going to be able to get out and hurt any of us, because I won't let you," she said.
Napolitano was sentenced in 2010 to serve up to 20 years in prison after she pleaded guilty to six counts of intentionally inflicting serious injury on a child in a plea agreement with Uintah County prosecutors. One count was a second-degree felony. The others were all class A misdemeanors.
Following a Dec. 18 hearing, the state parole board decided Napolitano will serve her entire sentence behind bars. She will not be released from prison until June 2030.
"It's a gift of time," said C.A., a Uintah County woman who adopted two of the six children removed from Napolitano's home three years ago. She agreed to talk to the Deseret News on condition of anonymity.
The abuses Napolitano, 35, is accused of inflicting on the children are horrific. She has admitted to binding her 6-year-old son's ankles together and then hanging him upside down for days. The abuse caused damage so severe doctors later had to amputate all of the boy's toes and parts of his feet.
"Why did you do that?" Micklos asked.
"I thought he was going to hurt me," Napolitano replied. "I was pregnant at the time. In my head, I thought he was going to hurt me."
"Really?" Micklos asked, the disbelief evident in her voice. "You thought a child that size was going to hurt you?"
"Yes, I did," Napolitano said.
Napolitano's older children have said she hit them in the head and face with the claw-end of a hammer, stabbed them with knives and needles, starved them for days and confined them to small spaces for extended periods of time. Those claims are supported by the scars still found on their small bodies, and by the emaciated condition they were in when they were taken from Napolitano.
The children say they were also forced by their mother to inflict injuries on each other while she watched.
"Words can't begin to describe how completely evil and ruthless she was to innocent victims," C.A. said.
Some of the children have recently begun to disclose incidence of sexual abuse and repeated exposure to hardcore pornography while they lived with their mother, allegations for which Napolitano has not been charged.
"You just wonder, when is the bottom?," C.A. said. "When are we going to find the bottom and know what we're dealing with? After three years, I just think it's a process. There is no bottom. It's just a journey."
That journey includes allowing her girls to regularly spend time with their siblings, who have all been adopted by families in Uintah County. They meet with a therapist as well, and are seeing improvement. But there are still the nightmares that have C.A. in her daughters' rooms in the middle of the night trying to reassure them that Napolitano isn't coming back.
"These are not just casual conversations," she said. "These are post-traumatic episodes with crying and fear."
C.A. said she plans to use the "gift of time" her family received from the parole board to help her daughters continue their recovery. She also wants to see Napolitano held accountable for alleged abuse the girls are finally feeling safe enough to talk about.
Uintah County Attorney G. Mark Thomas said his office, as in any case, is willing to examine any allegations of criminal conduct and would file charges, if there is sufficient evidence.
If new charges were filed, and Napolitano was convicted, she would likely have to serve additional time behind bars.Comment on this story
That's something C.A. would welcome.
"I think that we would definitely like to pursue that," she said. "We would like the gift of more time."