Appeals court affirms conviction of woman in hot sauce case

AP News
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Posted: Jul 31, 2015 6:20 PM

JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — An Alaska appeals court has affirmed the conviction of an Anchorage woman whom prosecutors said used a videotape of herself punishing her son to get on the "Dr. Phil" show.

Jessica Beagley in 2011 was convicted of misdemeanor child abuse for punishing her adopted Russian son by putting hot sauce into his mouth. She received probation and a suspended jail sentence.

In her appeal, she argued, among other things, that the wording of the ordinance she was prosecuted under was vague.

The Court of Appeals, in a decision distributed Friday, acknowledged potential problems with what constitutes "reasonable parental discipline" under the ordinance. But the court said questions surrounding that are moot here.

The prosecution's case was premised on the theory that Beagley's actions weren't done for any purpose of punishment or discipline but instead to achieve the woman's goal of appearing on "Dr. Phil," the opinion states. Jurors weren't asked to decide if Beagley used unreasonable discipline but whether she engaged in parental discipline at all or mistreated her son as a ploy to get on TV, according to the opinion.

As part of its case, the prosecution conceded that the boy had misbehaved but said that had nothing to do with Beagley's actions. Beagley wanted to be on the show after seeing a segment on "Angry Moms," was in contact with producers before making the video and was told by producers that they needed to see something, the prosecution argued. The prosecutor said Beagley used a form of punishment that she knew didn't work to show she was angry.

Beagley's attorney had argued that Beagley reached out to the show for help.

Beagley and her husband adopted young brothers from Russia. Behavioral problems, particularly with one of the boys, proved challenging for the couple and Beagley was running out of ideas when she heard hot sauce and cold showers could be effective, her attorney, William Ingaldson, said in Beagley's appeal.

According to court documents, the video showed Beagley punishing her son by putting hot sauce in his mouth and making him stand under a cold shower.

Ingaldson did not return a call to the AP.

The appeals court rejected other claims raised by Beagley in the appeal, including challenges to evidentiary rulings by the trial judge.