Sentencing begins for woman convicted of starving, abusing adopted daughters
Sentencing began Tuesday for a woman convicted of starving and abusing three of her four former adopted daughters.
A jury convicted 31-year-old Echo Terry on 12 felony counts in August, including three counts of second-degree assault for withholding food from the girls. The jury also found that aggravating factors applied to the case, meaning the maximum sentence she faces increased from six years to 30.
In March of this year, Terry was back in court after officials learned she had concealed a pregnancy and the birth of a child of her own while out on bail.
Official court log notes from the evidentiary hearing detail witness testimony from medical professionals who say Terry gave birth to a baby boy while awaiting trial. The notes indicate the child was born in the 50th percentile when it comes to weight, but diagnosed with failure to thrive after he continuously lost weight and dropped into the second percentile by about 6 months old. There were concerns the child was not getting appropriate nutrition at home and he was hospitalized.
Terry’s son was removed by the Office of Children’s Services and placed into foster care with Nathanial Buck, a member of her church. The log notes indicate Buck testified that the boy came to live with him and his family in September 2018 and gained about a pound per month.
Buck returned to the courtroom Tuesday, where he identified himself as a pastor at Terry's church. A group of roughly a dozen people also appeared to be there in support of Terry. He spoke as a character witness for Terry, saying the boy was in his care for five and a half months before OCS returned the infant to his mother's care.
"I believe that they plan to wrap up their other portion of their OCS investigation here soon, completely showing that, once again, she was a good mother to her son," said Buck.
When asked after the hearing whether seeing images of the girls' bruised, scarred and emaciated bodies changed his mind, Buck said no. Buck declined to say which church he serves as a pastor, however he is listed as the pastor of Agape Fellowship on the Palmer church's website.
All four girls who were dangerously malnourished and previously taken from Terry’s home were adopted by Dr. Melissa Shein and her husband Dimitri. In September 2014, Dr. Shein found the oldest girl on a trail near the Alaska Native Medical Center. She thought the child was about 6 at the time, but later learned she was 10.
Prosecutors previously said they showed the jury evidence that the three older girls — ages 4, 9 and 10 when they were taken from Terry's home — showed signs of a serious medical condition called re-feeding syndrome.
"Essentially, their bodies were so malnourished to the point that, had they been given a large influx of food, they could have actually died from that large influx of food," said Assistant District Attorney Reid Schweitzer.
Both Dimitri and Melissa delivered victim impact statements Tuesday, pushing for the judge to give Terry a strict sentence, and taking aim at the group of adults supporting her.
"Even after Echo Terry has been convicted of abusing three children, the pastor sat here — he saw the naked, tortured, beaten, bitten bodies of my daughters. He is here today testifying about how wonderful of a person this criminal, this monster is. It is absolutely unbelievable to me, and in fact, it's despicable. I find it repulsive. It shakes my belief in people, to see this," Dimitri said.
Melissa said she was happy the children were not in the courtroom Tuesday to see the public display of support for Terry. She also noted that in the four years Terry has been considered to be serving time in custody, while on an ankle monitor, she's experienced several of life's milestones, including finding a spouse and having her first child.
"Allowing her to be immersed in her church community, who hails her as a wonderful person, a great mom, only reinforces her disease and invites more victims," she said. "It’s not appropriate to regard this time in custody as time served. She couldn’t even wait until this process was over to resume abuse of children. What will happen when there’s no one looking after her? Judge, I cannot sleep just knowing that she will he allowed to prey on more victims."
Assistant District Attorney Anna Cometa presented photos of the girls and evidence from their medical records during her arguments and asked Judge Michael Wolverton to sentence Terry to 27 years of active prison time.
Defense attorney Mary Burnell will have an opportunity to argue for her client's requested sentence — which would essentially amount to time already served, according to Wolverton — in a continued sentencing hearing on Thursday.
Wolverton said he will need time to think about the case before reaching a decision, and will likely sentence Terry in a third hearing next week.
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