AMERICAN FORK — A judge balked Monday at recommendations from state agencies that an Elk Ridge mother who allowed her children to be exposed to drugs be sentenced to probation in order to allow her to work toward reuniting her family.
Fourth District Judge Roger Griffin said the probation recommendation from Adult Probation and Parole was "appalling" and "not worth the paper it was written on."
"Good people don't allow, either directly or indirectly, for drugs to be administered to their own child," the judge said.
He also voiced skepticism about the support being offered by Lacey Dawn Christenson's family, speculating that because they had apparently turned a blind eye as the mother of four used drugs around her children, they would not prevent the children from being abused again.
Christenson, 26, was accused of using drugs throughout her pregnancy and allowing her common-law husband to administer drugs to their newborn baby in the hospital in an attempt to hide the infant's addiction. In addition to the baby, two of Christenson's sons, ages 2 and 4 at the time, also tested positive for drugs.
She pleaded guilty last month to distribution of a controlled substance and child abuse.
Shackled and wearing a pink jail uniform, her long brown hair curled at the ends, Christenson wept Tuesday as she pledged to remain sober and pleaded with the judge for a chance to work with the Utah Division of Child and Family Services to be reunited her children.
"I am begging you, please allow me to use the wonderful tools DCFS is offering," Christenson said through tears. "I so badly want to have my babies back in my arms. They need me and I need them."
A DCFS caseworker confirmed to the judge that, after speaking with Christenson in jail, the agency is willing to work with her.
"I can't predict the future, but I know that drug court works. Family drug court works. People have been able to get through these things and turn their lives around," the caseworker said.
Christenson told the judge she began using opioids to numb pain, both physical and emotional, to the point that drugs became "necessary for survival." When the father of her newborn baby rubbed drugs onto the infant's gums, she began to realize she couldn't escape her addiction on her own, but was too afraid to turn for help.
"I was so ashamed of my own actions, I wanted to be a perfect family like I once had," she cried. "I wish I had asked for help sooner."
But prosecutor Julia Thomas argued that, even though Christenson has no prior convictions, there is clear evidence the woman chose drugs over her family for years.
"These children had drugs in their system, she's lucky they survived it," Thomas said. "This isn't her first offense, this is the first time she got caught."
Thomas asked Griffin to break with the sentencing recommendation and order Christenson to serve consecutive prison terms, the same as her common-law husband received for his role in the case.
Police say the parents feared that the baby girl born to them April 9 was born with an opiate dependence. In order to hide signs of withdrawal, Wilde mixed crushed suboxone pills with water and applied it to the baby's gums, according to charging documents.
The charges allege that while Christenson "pointed the finger at Wilde" for having given the baby the drug, "she knew what he was doing, why he was doing it and did nothing to stop him."
A monthlong investigation into the couple began June 26 after Wilde attempted to steal items from a Walmart and return them for cash, all while carrying the infant girl in a car seat. Christenson was in the store with the other three children at the time, prosecutors said.
As he asked the judge for prison time in the case, Stetson Steele, Christenson's ex-husband and the father of her oldest son, described the impact her drug use has had on the boy.
According to Steele, the boy told him that at just 9 years old, he had been responsible for caring for his younger siblings when Christenson and Wilde disappeared at night and slept during the day. The boy often missed school, his father said, and when he visited on weekends seemed constantly tired and worried.
"Imagine being 9 years old and feeling like you have sole responsibility for your siblings," Steele said.
Following Christenson's arrest, Steele and his wife temporarily took custody of the woman's three youngest children so that they could remain with their brother.
During that time, Steele told the judge he saw effects of neglect and trauma in the children, describing them as unhealthy, fearful of being abandoned and in desperate need of love and attention. The infant, he said, ate like she was starving and seemed to be in constant pain.
"She failed to do the one thing mothers are hard wired to do, and that is protect her children," Steele said. "The things that these children have told us they have been through are just unimaginable."
Christenson pleaded guilty in October to four charges between two criminal cases filed against her. Griffin ordered Tuesday that prison sentences for the charges within each case run concurrently, but that time for the two cases will be served back to back.
She will receive credit for the 134 days she has served so far.
Christenson was sentenced in the first case to concurrent terms of at least one and up to 15 years for distribution of a controlled substance, a second-degree felony, and zero to five years for child abuse, a third-degree felony.7 comments on this story
In the second case, Christenson will serve concurrent sentences of zero to five years for reckless endangerment of a child, a third-degree felony, and six months for possession of a controlled substance, a class B misdemeanor.
The second case stemmed from an investigation into the family after the Walmart arrest.
Additional charges were dismissed as part of Christenson's plea deal, including two additional counts of child abuse, one count of child endangerment, two counts of drug possession and two counts of possession of drug paraphernalia.