MANASSAS, Va. (AP) — A former daycare worker convicted of child cruelty in what prosecutors described as a "baby fight club" was sentenced to nearly three years in prison, the maximum term the judge could impose.
A jury convicted Kierra Spriggs, 26, of Woodbridge earlier on charges of abusing numerous 2-year-olds by stepping on toes, dousing kids with water, snapping rubber bands on toddlers' wrists, feeding them Flamin' Hot Cheetos and making them fight each other.
The abuse occurred at a Minnieland Academy in 2013. The victims were a group of toddlers who were cared for in what Minnieland designated its "monkey room."
A second daycare worker, Sarah Jordan, was convicted on similar charges and was sentenced to nearly two years in prison.
In Spriggs' case, the jury recommended a sentence of 33 months, and at Thursday's sentencing hearing, Judge Carroll Weimer concurred.
Defense lawyer Patrick Foltz asked the judge to give Spriggs credit for time served, which in effect would keep her in jail for seven more months. Foltz cited sentencing guidelines, which called for a jail term of less than six months, and Spriggs' lack of a criminal record. He also argued there's no evidence that the toddlers in Spriggs' care suffered any lasting injury.
But prosecutor Ashleigh Landers-Sutton said it's too early to know what effect the abuse had on the children. Parents testified that their kids became aggressive and frightful after their time in the monkey room.
"These were children that did absolutely nothing to deserve the treatment that Ms. Spriggs" inflicted, Landers-Sutton said.
The reason for the abuse remains unclear. Landers-Sutton said as much at Thursday's hearing. A report filed by Child Protective Services suggests the abuse was for entertainment purposes.
Spriggs declined to speak when offered the opportunity at Thursday's hearing. In a letter to the judge she wrote, "I am whole-heartedly apologetic of the hurt, humiliation and embarrassment this tribulation has brought us all."
In sentencing, Weimar said he was reluctant to interfere with the jury's recommendation of a 33-month sentence, saying the jury reflects the voice of the community.
Foltz said he was disappointed in the sentence and did not yet know if Spriggs plans to appeal.
More than a dozen former Minnieland families have filed civil lawsuits in the last month, collectively seeking more than $12 million in damages from Minnieland.
James J. McCoart III, who represents the families, said he was "extremely pleased that the court, in all its wisdom, gave the defendant the maximum allowed."
Minnieland, in a statement, said it told Child Protective Services about the allegations in August 2013 when a teacher reported them and that "to our knowledge, this was the first time any teacher ... reported such incidents to management."
At the trials, though, several teachers testified they reported the abuse to management several months before Minnieland took any action.