Jury convicts man off lesser abuse charge

AP News
Posted: Nov 18, 2011 2:26 AM
Jury convicts man off lesser abuse charge

A jury convicted a caregiver of felony abuse Thursday night in the case of a disabled woman who police say was bound crucifixion-style to a bar and kept inside a coat closet.

Dale Beckering, 53, was found guilty of a lesser included charge of second-degree felony aggravated abuse of a vulnerable adult in the case involving the death of 22-year-old Christina Harms.

Beckering had faced the first-degree version of the charge _ which carried a possible life sentence _ but the jury opted for the lesser charge after more than four hours of deliberations.

Harms suffered from fetal alcohol syndrome and functioned at the level of about a 12-year-old. Prosecutors said an investigation after her death found she had been bound inside an alarm-rigged coat closet, her arms secured to a pole above her head with plastic zips ties and her feet bound together. Pepper seed was found under her lower right eyelid.

Prosecutors contended Beckering knew of and contributed to the ongoing abuse of Harms.

Court papers said the abusive treatment began in about July 2010 and continued until Harm's death on March 25.

Defense attorney Rudy Bautista disputed the contention that Beckering was party to the abuse.

In court, Bautista told jurors Beckering had no knowledge of the abuse because he worked long hours and lived mostly in the basement of the family home, where he watched television, used a computer and did needlework.

The disabled woman was under the care of Beckering's step-daughter Cassandra Shepard and lived with Shepard's family, which included Shepard's mother and three children. Two of the children belonged to Shepard and the third to Harms.

Shepard, 28, who was Harms' legal guardian, has been charged with first-degree felonies of murder and aggravated abuse of a disabled adult. She's also facing a second-degree felony charge of obstructing justice.

She has not yet entered a plea and a hearing in her case is set for Nov. 22.

Fox 13 News reported that Beckering will be sentenced Jan. 30, when he will face 1 to 15 years in prison on his conviction.

The young granddaughters of Beckering identified him as one of Harms' caregivers, Unified Police Department Detective Peggy Faulkner testified Thursday.

Faulkner said one of the girls told her Harms had been "grounded" to the closet by her mother for being bad.

An autopsy found Harms had suffered from dehydration and had toxic levels of chemicals commonly found in the over-the-counter medication Benadryl in her system. Medical examiners determined Harms died as a result of improper care by her caregiver, prosecutors said.

Cross-examined by Bautista on Thursday, however, a second Unified Police detective acknowledged there was no fingerprint or DNA evidence linking Beckering to the crime.

Detective Ben Pender also acknowledged that at least two other police agencies _ one in Utah and one in South Dakota _ had investigated previous allegations of abuse related to Harms, but neither had resulted in criminal charges.