ST. GEORGE — The mother whose missing toddler triggered a massive search in St. George last fall was sentenced Wednesday for a crime related to her arrest in the case.
Jennifer Rose, 39, of St. George, appeared in 5th District Court for sentencing on one third-degree felony charge of possession of a controlled substance, reduced from a second-degree felony in exchange for a guilty plea. Under the terms of the plea agreement, the state also agreed to drop three third-degree felony charges, including two counts of endangerment of a child and one count of abuse or neglect of a disabled child, as well as a misdemeanor possession of paraphernalia charge.
The charges stem from an Oct. 18 incident when Rose’s son, 3-year-old Brandon Stratton, was reported missing in St. George, leading to a massive multi-agency search for the toddler.
When questioned by police, Rose told the officers she was apartment hunting in Mesquite, Nevada, the previous day and left both children in the care of a babysitter. When she returned home at 3 a.m. that day, she said she found both children asleep on the couch. It wasn’t until later that morning that she was unable to find the toddler. According to police, she gave conflicting stories regarding her whereabouts.
As the search was ensuing, a family member brought the child to the police station after hearing he had been reported missing, telling police she took the toddler for his own safety after she went to the home at around midnight and found the child and his 6-year-old brother alone.
Both children were removed from the home by the Utah Division of Child and Family Services the next day, and Brandon tested positive for amphetamine. One week later, the Washington County Attorney’s Office filed charges, and Rose arrested Oct. 26.
During Wednesday’s hearing before Judge Michael G. Westfall, a discrepancy in Rose’s presentence investigation report relating to her jail sentence was brought to light, with one section listing a jail term of 180 days if she violates the terms of her probation and another section suggesting a 30-day jail term.
Prosecutor Mark Barlow said the suspended jail sentence would likely serve as a motivator for the defendant to comply with the terms of the plea agreement, as opposed to ordering Rose to serve a 30-day sentence immediately. If she failed to comply, then she would serve the 180 days, which he called “a great amount of jail time” in open court.
Westfall responded to Barlow, saying, “Well, I’ve got five years of prison hanging over her head if she violates her probation.”
Barlow said the state recommended supervised probation with Adult Probation and Parole and said the state’s position is taking into account the other agencies involved that are watching out for the children’s safety.
Defense attorney Ed Flint said that once the facts came out, it became apparent that the child was missing because someone had “taken her child,” adding that no charges were ever filed against the individual who took the child.
Barlow responded by saying there were other facts in the case that were concerning. Regardless, he said, the state’s main concerns surrounded the safety of the children.
Flint said the defendant is currently involved with numerous agencies, including the Division of Child and Family Services and family drug court — an intense program that treats substance abuse issues with the goal of preserving families and protecting children.
Rose has also completed residential substance abuse treatment and has “been working for months to get her children back,” Flint said.
Flint requested that she not be placed on supervised probation and instead allow the agencies already involved to continue monitoring her progress. He also requested that her drug court and treatment fees be credited to any fine imposed by the court. Barlow said the state would agree to that request, adding that the state “wants her to be successful.”
Rose also addressed the court during the hearing.
“I can stand here and honestly say I have 10 months clean and sober and have passed every drug test,” she said. “I work very hard to be a good mom to my children, and the only way to do that is to continue with the journey I’m currently on.”
Westfall proceeded with sentencing and ordered that the prison sentence of zero to five years be suspended, as well as the jail sentence of 180 days, with credit for 95 days already served as long as the defendant successfully completes the terms of the sentence. Instead, Rose was placed on 24-months supervised probation with Adult Probation and Parole and ordered to comply with the terms of probation, which includes continuing her progress in family court and complying with the terms set forth by the Division of Child and Family Services. She was also fined $1,500 to be paid in monthly installments.
The defendant’s children have been in the custody of the state since her arrest.
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