On Wednesday, a Jefferson County courtroom became a viewing room for what investigators called “horrendous” physical abuse against a 2-year-old girl.
Judge Daniel Ahern watched eight minutes of video of Mariah Rodriguez beating, berating and taunting her young child, while her husband, Antonio Javon Burke-Gates recorded the abuse on his phone, according to the Jefferson County District Attorney’s Office. Burke-Gates is heard on the video telling his wife she is going too far, and that the numerous purple, yellow and brown bruises on their child force him to hide his child from public eyes.
The child has since been placed in alternative care.
The hearing was a joint plea and sentencing hearing for the Madras couple. Both Burke-Gates, 27, and Rodriguez, 26, pleaded guilty to first-degree criminal mistreatment and third-degree assault. Because no plea deal had been reached, the prosecution and defense argued their proposed sentences to Ahern. Rodriguez’s and Burke-Gates’ attorneys, Paul Sumner and Dave Glenn, respectively, pushed for the standard sentence: 90 days in local jail and three years of probation. Deputy District Attorney Brentley Foster asked for 18 months in prison due to the nature of the abuse and what she said in a sentencing memorandum was a lack of remorse.
Ahern split the difference, sentencing both to 13 months in prison. They will get credit for the 10 days they have spent in jail during proceedings and will be eligible for early release based on good behavior and participation in programs offered in prison.
Jefferson County District Attorney Steve Leriche said he still believes a harsher sentence fits the crime.
“We believe Brentley Foster’s recommendation of 18 months was a very appropriate recommendation given the nature of the assault on a 2-year-old child.”
Police started investigating the couple when a family member sent the video to the Madras Police Department. They were questioned and arrested Sept. 2.
Foster called the video “excruciating.” The abuse captured in the video is detailed in court documents, which state Rodriguez hit her daughter 27 times in rapid succession. This abuse occurred with the child up against a kitchen island, and each blow caused the child’s head to hit the island.
“At that point, defendant Rodriguez assumed a vicious, mocking tone and begins imitating her sobbing 2-year-old daughter, ‘Waaaaah, help me, I have to walk!!!’” court documents state.
The video then captures Rodriguez going on an expletive-laden rant about how the toddler was crying for no reason and deserved the abuse.
“Can’t even stand up (after) getting popped in the head, that’s pretty (expletive) pathetic,” Rodriguez says on the video.
Burke-Gates is heard telling his wife that she is treating their daughter “worse than a horse” and complaining he can’t take the girl in public because her face and body were covered in bruises. Burke-Gates complained that the child had been in her bedroom for 24 hours straight.
His wife corrected him, saying the child had been in her room for 24 hours straight “today and the past couple days.”
When Madras Police Officer Brent Schulke questioned the couple, he saw the girl, court records show. She walked toward him with open arms, as if to give him a hug. He saw extensive evidence of abuse: a large purple and yellow bruise on the right side of her face, covering her entire cheek, another bruise across the bridge of her nose, two more dime-sized bruises above her eye and several more on her forehead. She had a scabbed-over cut on her upper lip. Police reports describe the abuse as “beyond the pale.”
While Burke-Gates is heard on the video criticizing his wife’s abuse, he did not intervene. When Schulke questioned Burke-Gates, he asked him if he was concerned for the girl’s safety. Burke-Gates said no. Burke-Gates then told Schulke that he recorded the video because he was concerned Rodriguez would blackmail him. She had previously accused him of domestic violence and found out he was having an affair. Schulke described the video as Burke-Gates’ insurance policy against his wife.
Burke-Gates sent the video to his grandmother, who then sent it to police, court documents state.
Court records indicate the abuse captured was not a one-time occurrence. Both parents referenced previous instances of abuse, and when officers searched the home, they found the girl didn’t have any blankets, pillows or sheets. Her room smelled of urine, officers noted. Rooms of the other two children in the house had bedding and did not smell of urine.
Burke-Gates is also heard on video stating that Rodriguez does not treat the other children in the same way, to which she responds she does.
Leriche would not specifically comment on where the children are being housed now but said in situations like this the preferred move is to find a safe family member to care for the children, and if that isn’t an option they are put in foster care.
The police investigation found two other documented instances of possible abuse. In August 2015, when the child was 6 months old, she was seen at a hospital in Washington County for a broken femur. Rodriguez told doctors she put the girl in a walker chair with wheels, and the baby jumped out and broke her leg.
“Doctors could not confirm defendant Rodriguez’s story but said it was ‘possible’ the injury occurred as stated,” court documents state.
In May of 2015, it was reported the girl had a 2- to 3-inch bruise on her forehead. Parents claimed she sustained the injury from “fooling around.”
When originally questioned by police, Rodriguez denied abusing her children. She admitted to doling out a couple of spankings for serious things, like putting objects in electrical sockets, but claimed she had never come unglued and abused a child like what is shown in the video. When officers played the video for Rodriguez to refresh her memory, she admitted to remembering the incident, and said she had never done that to the other children. She blamed the outburst on her being pregnant, marital issues and being stressed.
Leriche said even had Rodriguez and Burke-Gates received the maximum 18-month sentence, it might not be sufficient for the abuse sustained by the 2-year-old. He called the sentencing guidelines in this case “inadequate.”
“Perhaps that is something that should be reviewed by the Legislature,” he said.
— Reporter: 541-383-0376, firstname.lastname@example.org