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Kearns woman pleads guilty to abusing, killing woman in her care

Published: Monday, Feb. 25 2013 2:47 p.m. MST

KEARNS — A Kearns woman charged with murdering a disabled woman she was caring for has pleaded guilty to reduced charges.

Cassandra Marie Shepard, 29, pleaded guilty to aggravated abuse of a disabled adult, a first-degree felony, and manslaughter, a second-degree felony, in the death of Christina "Nina" Harms, 22.

In March of 2011, Unified police found Harms dead inside her home at 4978 S. 5415 West. Prosecutors say Harms, who suffered from fetal alcohol syndrome and had the mental capacity of an 8- to 12-year-old, was constantly kept in a small closet where she was forced to eat and go to the bathroom while being bound to a metal bar.

Harms had ligature marks on her ankles consistent with plastic zip ties when officials examined her, severe bruising on her thigh and head, bloodshot eyes, a pepper seed in one of her eyelids, and her hands were completely covered with bandaging material, which would have prevented her from getting the pepper seed out.

Shepard was Harms' legal guardian. Shepard's mother, Sherrie Beckering, and stepfather, Dale Beckering, were also charged in Harms' death. Sherrie Beckering was convicted of aggravated abuse of a disabled adult, a first-degree felony, in September and was sentenced to five years to life in prison. Dale Beckering was convicted of aggravated abuse of a vulnerable adult, a second-degree felony, and was sentenced to one to 15 years in prison.

Attorneys for both Sherrie and Dale Beckering argued that their clients were not aware of the abuse Harms was suffering but jurors disagreed.

Shepard was originally charged with murder, a first-degree felony, aggravated abuse of a disabled adult, a first-degree felony, and obstructing justice, a second-degree felony. As part of her plea agreement, prosecutors will recommend that Shepard's sentences run consecutive to each other.

Sentencing has been set for March 22.

E-mail: emorgan@desnews.com

Twitter: DNewsCrimeTeam

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