The Delaware Supreme Court on Friday upheld the life sentence of a child care worker who pleaded guilty to the murder of a four-month-old child.
As Law&Crime previously reported, DeJoynay Ferguson was arrested in September 2019 and pleaded guilty in April 2021. She appealed, arguing that her life sentence was unfair under Friday’s decision by the Delaware Supreme Court.
“She claims that the sentencing judge only sentenced her for the purpose of retaliation; that he condemned them with a closed mind; that he was unwilling to consider the mitigation evidence and arguments she presented; and that her judgment violated her right to a due process,” the state Supreme Court wrote of Ferguson’s appeal tactics. The Supreme Court dismissed these complaints and upheld the verdict.
A panel of three judges declared what predicted the death of the child:
In January 2019, at the age of 18, Ferguson began working at Little People Child Development Center, a daycare center in Bear, Delaware. At the time, Ferguson’s only childcare experience was a three-month stint at another daycare in Delaware. Because of this lack of experience, Ferguson was initially hired as an assistant teacher in the nursery. However, after being in that position for two months, the head teacher who was supervising Ferguson was relieved of employment and Ferguson was left to tend the infant room alone with minimal experience or training.
The High State Court found that Ferguson admitted at sentencing that she was “over my head” while working at the daycare.
“Unfortunately, she turned to abuse to maintain control of the nursery,” the court said. “From June 2019 to September 2019, CCTV at the daycare showed Ferguson choking three children to death, sometimes multiple times a day, on 28 separate days, and physically abusing two other children. Ferguson’s behavior finally came to a head on September 5, 2019, when she choked IT, a healthy four-month-old girl.”
The incident was also caught on video; it happened “less than three hours after” the child’s mother dropped him off at the facility, according to the state Supreme Court’s ruling.
“Ferguson put her hand over IT’s mouth and nose and choked her, causing her death,” the court continued. “Nearly 30 minutes later, when Ferguson found IT unresponsive, she began CPR and eventually called for help. Ferguson was 19 years old at the time of the murder.”
According to the Supreme Court, Ferguson said the sound of crying babies in the daycare stressed her. After placing the mortally wounded IT back in her crib, Ferguson felt “more relaxed . . . because she was able to channel her anger and remove the source of the stress,” the defendant later told a forensic psychologist. Ferguson also told police that “she has modified her method of suffocation over time to make it more effective,” the Delaware Supreme Court noted.
A grand jury charged Ferguson with first-degree murder by abuse or neglect on one count, first-degree child abuse on 48 counts, and second-degree child abuse on four counts. The charges involved incidents involving five different children. Ferguson eventually pleaded guilty to one count of first-degree murder by abuse or neglect, six counts of first-degree child molestation, and two counts of second-degree child molestation. Prosecutors agreed to drop other charges in exchange for Ferguson’s guilty plea.
The minimum possible sentence for all charges to which Ferguson pleaded guilty was 27 years in prison, according to the state Supreme Court. The maximum was life in prison. As already mentioned, the sentencing judge chose the maximum.
The sentencing judge noted that the “choking death occurred at the end of a pattern of suffocation babies to get them to be still while they change their diapers.”
“A sentence of several years in prison would not adequately express a society’s outrage at the utterly senseless killing of one of its young children by a person in its care,” the sentencing judge said, according to the Supreme Court ruling. “It is therefore the ruling of the Court that a conviction for first-degree murder by abuse or negligence should be a sentence of life imprisonment.”
The judge was undeterred by claims by Ferguson’s attorneys that she was an immature teenager suffering from undiagnosed mental health problems.
The state Supreme Court said its review of the ruling was limited. The verdict came within the limits established by state law, and Ferguson did not allege that her verdict was based on “inaccurate or unreliable facts.”
The only appeal issue, the Supreme Court found, was whether the sentencing judge based his decision on “unity, vindictiveness, or bias.”
Those issues did not arise here, the Delaware Supreme Court concluded. The three-judge appellate panel said the sentencing judge ordered a pre-verdict investigation, read evidence presented by prosecutors and the defense, and read correspondence about the verdict. The judge also listened as Ferguson spoke for himself during the sentencing.
“While it is clear that the judge was unconvinced by Ferguson’s mitigating evidence, we cannot conclude from this record that the judge ignored or disregarded the mitigating evidence and arguments she offered, or condemned them with a closed, vindictive, or biased judgment.” spirit,” concluded the three-judge panel of the Supreme Court.
Read the opinion of the Supreme Court here:
[Image via a Delaware State Police mugshot.]
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