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Nurse gets one-year in jail for death of foster child, Utah AG upset

FILE -- Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes talks to members of the media regarding the opioid epidemic during a roundtable discussion at Jordan Academy for Technology & Careers South Campus on Monday, May 21, 2018, in Riverton. Jacob Wiegand, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah — Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes says the one-year prison sentence for a Utah nurse whose foster child died in her care is too lenient, calling the judge’s decision “beyond disappointing” and a “travesty.”

Guilty plea

The case at hand revolves around Lisa Jo Vanderlinden, a Duchene County nurse.

Prosecutors say her 2-year-old foster son, Lucas Call, had acted out during dinner on Aug. 4, 2018. Family members say they heard the child vomiting and Vanderlinden yelling, followed by a “loud bang” from the bathroom where she was caring for him. Court documents indicate that Vanderlinden later said she had become “mad and frustrated.”

When police responded to her home the next day they found the child deceased, with bruises on his face and much of his body. They say Vanderlinden had become increasingly frustrated with Lucas in the days before his death. She later admitted that she did not seek the prompt medical attention that would have saved the boy from deadly damage to his internal organs.

Vanderlinden originally faced a charge of aggravated murder, which is a first-degree felony. In March of this year, she pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of child abuse homicide, also a first-degree felony.

Controversial one-year sentence

Wednesday, Vanderlinden was ordered to serve just one year in jail and 14 years of probation. 8th District Judge Samuel Chiara also ordered her to pay a $10,000 fine.

Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes, whose prosecutors had argued for the maximum sentence available — at least five years and up to life in prison — is outraged by the judge’s decision.

“It’s a travesty and undermines the confidence of the public in our justice system’s ability to protect kids from abuse and homicide,” says Reyes. “We are at a loss as to why the court ruled the way it did.”

Not everyone is siding with the state’s top legal officer, though.

“This is a statement from a politician in an election year, a politician who had literally nothing to do with the prosecution of this case,” says defense attorney Ed Brass.