CEDAR CITY — A Cedar City woman who pleaded guilty to endangering her toddler-age child was sentenced last week to 120 days in jail, plus three years of probation.
Nickole Danielle Sellers, 29, pleaded guilty on Feb. 9 to one count of child endangerment, a third-degree felony. She was sentenced Tuesday by 5th District Judge Ann Marie McIff Allen.
As previously reported by Cedar City News, Sellers and her boyfriend Jason Wesley Workman were both arrested in March 2020 after police had responded to a report that Sellers’ son, then 21 months old, had sustained suspicious bruising and other injuries after being strapped tightly into a bouncy seat. A subsequent medical evaluation also detected the presence of methamphetamine in the boy’s system.
At Tuesday’s sentencing, defense attorney Shain Manuele had argued that no jail time be given, citing Sellers’ lack of criminal history.
“I was absolutely shocked at the 120-day jail recommendation,” Manuele said during the sentencing hearing, which was conducted via remote videoconference. “This is an individual who has no prior history, no criminal history in the past.”
Manuele said a four-month jail term could derail the progress that Sellers has been making toward regaining custody of her son from the state Division of Child and Family Services.
“Miss Sellers has done very well with DCFS. She’s progressed well. She’s been able to be with her child,” Maneule said, adding, “She has custody of her second child, there’s only (her older child) that is in DCFS custody right now.”
“If she is to continue to comply with DCFS, and those orders and those programs and the treatment and everything great that they’re doing, she can’t be in jail for four months,” Maneule argued. “That would completely put in halt everything, at a standstill, which would absolutely not be in the best interest of the child.”
However, prosecuting attorney Shane Klenk said the state’s recommendation of a 120-day jail term was both appropriate and justified.
“I did not see anything that expressed remorse for the effect and impact this crime had on her child, and the danger and the trauma that he was exposed to as a result of her actions,” Klenk said, adding, “It does not appear that she appreciates the seriousness of this offense.”
“Miss Sellers is the, or was the, primary caregiver, the custodian of this child,” Klenk added. “She was the person that was supposed to be protecting the child, watching after the child and making sure that he was protected from harm. And instead, he tested positive for methamphetamine. There was evidence of abuse by a live-in boyfriend.”
“We’ve dealt with cases in the past — the state has prosecuted similar situations — where the case ended much more tragically,” Klenk said. “There has to be serious consequences for people that expose children to danger.”
Klenk went on to say that he felt the recommended 120-day jail term was “generous” for the defendant.
“This is as good a time as any for Miss Sellers to face real consequences,” he said. “One hundred, twenty days is not a life sentence. It will not ruin anything. It may delay progress and the reunification with her son. But the state believes that that can be beneficial (and) can help her understand the seriousness of her actions.”
Allen then asked Sellers herself if she wanted to speak to the court.
“I am really sorry about what happened with my son,” Sellers said, adding that she does take her situation seriously. “It hasn’t been easy. You know, it’s not that I’m trying to just walk away from it.”
“That’s why I’ve been doing the things that I need to do for DCFS. My kids mean a lot to me,” Sellers added. “I take responsibility for a lot, and I’m doing the best I can, I guess.”
Allen then handed down the sentencing, imposing the 120 days in jail as suggested by the state’s recommendation.
Allen then told Sellers that illegal drug use and proper parenting “can’t happen at the same time.”
“You cannot have a child and be a drug user, and be able to care for that child adequately,” Allen said. “It doesn’t matter what room you’re using the drugs in. It doesn’t matter if you think you’ve kept the drugs away from the child. You cannot care for a two-year-old and be a drug user.”
“I appreciate the work that you have done to make some progress in that area in terms of parenting and the other things that you have referenced,” Allen added. “But until you fully grasp the fact that those two things are totally inconsistent with each other … we can’t have you in a situation where you’re parenting a child. I just need you to understand how serious that is.”
Noting that Sellers’ DCFS court case is scheduled to wrap up May 11, Allen decided to move the scheduling of Sellers’ jail time until after that. The court set a date for May 25 for a review hearing to schedule jail time.
Also on Tuesday, the court established the terms and conditions of Sellers’ 36-month probationary period and waived all but $53 of $9,500 in fines.
Meanwhile, a related court case involving the 22-year-old Workman is still pending. Workman pleaded not guilty in November to one count of child endangerment, a third-degree felony. His next court appearance is scheduled for April 27, also before Judge Allen.
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