Thursday, April 7, 2011

Trio charged with murder in torture death of Utah disabled woman

From the Deseret News in Utah:

SALT LAKE CITY — Three people charged in connection with the abuse and death of a disabled Kearns woman made their initial appearances in court April 6.

Cassandra Marie Shepard, 27, faces charges of murder, intentional aggravated abuse of a disabled adult and obstruction of justice in the death of 22-year-old Christina Harms. Prosecutors say Harms, who suffered from fetal alcohol syndrome and had the mental capacity of an 8- to 12-year-old, was constantly kept in a small closet where she was forced to eat and go to the bathroom while being bound to a metal bar.

Harms had ligature marks on her ankles consistent with plastic zip ties when officials examined her, severe bruising on her thigh and head, bloodshot eyes, a pepper seed in one of her eyelids, and her hands were completely covered with bandaging material, which would have prevented her from getting the pepper seed out.

In 3rd District Court Wednesday, Shepard wore a yellow jail jumpsuit, her hair braided tightly on top of her head and her hands cuffed behind her back.

Only saying "yes" when the judge asked if she had the spelling of her name correct, the charges against Shepard were read and her next court hearing was scheduled for Monday.

Also making brief court appearances Wednesday were Shepard's mother, Sherrie Beckering, 50, and her stepfather, Dale Beckering, 52. Both were also living in the Kearns house at the time of Harms' death and both were charged intentional aggravated abuse of a disabled person.

Each defendant was brought into the courtroom separately. Bailiffs actually had to use a holding cell on another floor to keep all three apart at all times. The Legal Defenders Office was appointed to represent all three. Pre-trial services did not recommend release for either Shepard or the Beckerings based on the charges and a lack of references from anyone in the group.

Harms, Shepard and the Beckerings all have ties to South Dakota. They had reportedly lived in Kearns only a couple of months.

The courtroom gallery Wednesday was empty except for a Deseret News reporter. No friends, neighbors, supporters or family members of any of the defendants or victim were present.

The Beckerings were both scheduled to appear in court again on Tuesday.