NEWTON — Katheryn Nycole Dale couldn't speak through her tears when a judge asked her Thursday whether she had anything to say about the abuse leading up to the death of her toddler.
The 21-year-old mother sobbed loudly as a Harvey County deputy led her to jail to catch a bus for prison, where a judge sentenced her to serve more than three years.
David Yoder, Harvey County attorney, said Dale's complicity with the abuse of her child, along with her own mistreatment of the boy, led to the March 27 death of her son, 19-month-old Vincent Hill.
"She, as his mother, is the one person who could have taken proper actions to protect this child and possibly prevented this death from happening," Yoder said.
Dale pleaded no contest in July to child abuse and aggravated child endangerment.
Harvey County District Judge Joe Dickinson gave Dale the maximum sentence allowed by law. She could be out of prison in less than three years with good-time credit, Dickinson said.
Under the plea agreement, Dale has agreed to testify in the upcoming trial of her live-in boyfriend, Chad Carr. He has pleaded not guilty and is awaiting trial on first-degree murder, aggravated battery and child abuse in Vincent's death.
Greg Barker, Dale's attorney, said she'd been taking parenting classes, as he argued for probation. Dale also has a 7-month old child.
"Clearly, she's a victim," Barker said. "I don't know how much more punishment a court could render a person, after they've had their baby murdered."
But Dale admitted to investigators that she had poked a fork into Vincent's mouth while trying to get him to eat, Yoder said, and that she had slapped him on several occasions.
"She described it as 'popping him,' " Yoder said.
On the day he died, Dale left Vincent alone for the day with Carr, knowing he had hit the boy in the past and stuffed a rag or shirt in his mouth to stop his crying, witnesses said.
"This child had been systematically abused over a period of time," Yoder said.
A month before Vincent's death, a neighbor phoned a national hotline for abused children, saying she could hear the boy screaming. But no one passed that information along to local authorities.
An autopsy revealed Vincent died from a brain injury most likely caused by suffocation and multiple signs of blunt-force trauma.
Jacey Lopez, Carr's ex-wife, and her family said afterward they couldn't believe he was capable of harming Vincent. They have two children together, ages 4 and 5.
"He never touched my kids," Lopez said.
In a separate case, Carr also faces charges of possessing child pornography.