Errors discovered in criminal records of slain toddler's mother


The criminal record of the mother of slain toddler Dezirae Sheldon contains several errors, including the fact that she does not appear on the online sex offender registry as required, a legislative attorney told senators Wednesday.

Errors in the criminal record of Sandra Eastman that have gone uncorrected since her 2008 guilty plea to a charge of lewd and lascivious conduct with a child were disclosed at a meeting of a Senate panel investigating the Department for Children and Families following Dezirae's death.

Two-year-old Dezirae died Feb. 21 at the hospital. An autopsy report said she died of blunt trauma to the head. Her stepfather, Dennis Duby of Poultney, is charged with second-degree murder.

The Senate panel is looking for systemic problems within DCF. Senators said they also want to seek subpoena power to examine private records in the Dezirae Sheldon case.

DCF is also suffering from a huge caseload and a record number of reports of abuse, witnesses said.

DCF this year expects to receive 17,000 reports by the end of the year, compared with 12,000 five years ago, said DCF Commissioner David Yacovone, who attended the hearing but did not testify.

At the beginning of the meeting, senators learned from legislative attorney Michelle Childs about three errors she uncovered after reviewing public court records concerning Eastman from Rutland Superior Court.

The first was a clerical error that resulted in erroneous subsequent records about Eastman's 2008 guilty plea to lewd and lascivious conduct with a child. In that case, Eastman accepted a plea agreement for allegedly having sex with a 15-year-old boy when she was 24. She pleaded guilty to lewd and lascivious conduct with a child but the crime was mistakenly reported as lewd and lascivious conduct, which carries lesser penalties and requirements under sex offender registration law, Childs wrote in a letter to the panel.

The second issue Childs identified was that Eastman received a lighter sentence for lewd and lascivious conduct with a child than prescribed by law.

The third error, Childs said, was that Eastman's criminal record indicates she is a lifetime registrant of the sex offender registry, but she does not appear in the public online registry database, as required by law. Childs said neither lewd and lascivious nor lewd and lascivious with a child require lifetime registration.

Sen. Dick Sears, D-Bennington, said the errors created "all kinds of ramifications in the future of the case."

"All the state agencies that are involved followed from the mistaken code," Sears said.

After the meeting, Yacovone said there are many DCF workers, including front-line social workers, who have been on staff for years. He said the hours are irregular, and the work is onerous.

"It's got to be some of the most stressful work in state government," he said.

DCF has added 27 social workers in the past three years, he said, and reduced caseloads to about a 1 to 15 ratio from a prior ratio of 1 to 20.

The Senate panel plans to meet again at noon April 2.


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