Angela Ray Andrews pleaded guilty Tuesday to killing her 10-year-old stepdaughter, Shelby, by locking the child in a too-tight closet space with so little breathing room that the panicked girl, who was pleading to be let out, choked on her own vomit.
Andrews, 37, pleaded guilty to first-degree felony murder. She also pleaded guilty to second-degree felony sexual abuse of a child, which is a reduction from the original charge of first-degree felony aggravated sexual abuse of a child.
Davis County Attorney Troy Rawlings said his office is pleased with the plea bargain: Andrews faces a sentence of 15-years-to-life in prison for the murder, one-to-15 years for the sexual abuse, and she will be a registered sex offender.
This also was satisfactory for Shelby Andrews' family, because it means there will be no protracted litigation, no appeals process and, perhaps most importantly, none of the other children associated with the case will have to take the witness stand.
"Within the parameters of the law, this plea does justice for Shelby, her family and the community," Rawlings said.
Andrews will be sentenced Nov. 19.
Rawlings said his office regarded the murder charge as "non-negotiable" and would not budge on that issue during the plea bargain process. As for the sex offense charge, defense attorney John Caine had filed a memorandum with the court arguing that it should be merged into the murder charge and treated as a single criminal offense.
Rawlings said he did not want to litigate that and risk the possibility of raising issues that could later be brought before an appeals court. Offering a reduced charge on the sex abuse count was a small price to pay to get the murder conviction, he said.
"Even with count two (amended to a lesser charge), we are still happy with what we get out of that," Rawlings said. "We get a sex offender registration, and the board of pardons will have to consider that."
The board also has the power to keep Andrews behind bars for the rest of her life if it chooses, so the outcome of the sex abuse charge was less compelling than getting a guilty plea for the murder, Rawlings said.
"I think it's fair to say that in talking to Shelby's family, they are pleased with the plea," he said.
It is now up to 2nd District Judge Michael Allphin to decide whether the sentences should run concurrently or consecutively.
Police were called to the Syracuse home of Ryan and Angela Andrews on Aug. 1, 2006, where they discovered the battered body of Shelby, who was covered with old and new bruises and bite marks, and whose brain was later found to have been swelling.
Ryan Andrews, 39, pleaded guilty to first-degree felony murder and was sentenced Jan. 22, 2007, to 15-years-to-life in prison.
In a confession, Ryan Andrews outlined systematic and repeated abuse of the girl, who was his biological child, that he participated in but which was largely inflicted by his new wife, Angela Andrews. Her biological children also were present in the home when beatings and other mistreatment of Shelby took place.
Among other things, Angela Andrews forced Shelby to eat her own feces, slammed the girl's head repeatedly into the stairs, beat the girl in the vaginal area with the heel of a shoe and also hit her vaginal area with a metal spray can "while we held her arms and legs," Ryan Andrews wrote.
On the night she died, Shelby had been forced into a tiny space inside a linen closet between the shelves and the door, where she was forced to stay upright, had difficulty breathing, and wept and cried out that she was choking on her own vomit.
However, Ryan Andrews said his wife told him to leave the girl inside because Shelby was "just trying to play me," and the couple watched TV while the girl was trapped inside the closet area after the door knob had been removed.
Angela Andrews had objected to tying the door closed with a rope because it allowed Shelby to push it open a little bit and get some air, Ryan Andrews said.
"When we later opened the door Shelby was dead, and her lifeless body fell to the floor," Ryan Andrews' confession states.Angela Andrews has been held in the Davis County Jail since the case began.