Lufkin woman gets 119 months for baby's co-sleeping death

Published: Aug. 23, 2012 at 5:27 PM CDT|Updated: Aug. 23, 2012 at 9:41 PM CDT
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Vanessa Clark (Source: Angelina County Jail)
Vanessa Clark (Source: Angelina County Jail)

LUFKIN, TX (KTRE) - A district judge has sentenced a Lufkin woman to 119 months in prison in connection to her infant son dying while she slept with him in 2010.

Judge Paul White said Clark absolutely "disregarded" proper care of the child.

"I cannot do apparently what you did and ignore the prior episode," said White.

White's sentence is one month shy of the maximum sentence so she can post an appeal bond.

A jury found Vanessa Lynn Clark, 33, guilty of child endangerment in April.

Judge Paul White issued the sentence on Thursday after Clark requested a pre-sentence investigation.

She and her husband, Mark Clark, were indicted in 2011 for the 2010 death of their infant son. The death came a year after another infant child died while they slept with it. Investigators determined the second death came as a result of them sleeping with him.

The jury found Mark Clark not guilty of the crime in May.

The state called upon Lacey Jones, an investigator with the Angelina County District Attorney's office, as their first witness.

Jones testified Vanessa Clark came to the DA's office, requesting charges against her husband, Mark Clark, be dropped.

"She came on her own," said the witness.

Jones said she did not have the power to drop the charges, and therefore she did not.

Prosecuting attorney, Dale Summa, then called upon Ryan Risinger as the next witness. She stated she was a pre-sentencing officer with the adult probation department.

"I drug-tested Mrs. Clark on two or three occasions," said the witness.

The witness briefly discussed with the attorneys Clark's use of certain prescriptions and how they could show up in test results.

Summa called upon Mark Clark as his next witness. Summa questioned Mark about the day Tristan died.

"It was July 9, 2010," said Clark.

Summa questioned Mark about his testimony, during his trial, about telling Vanessa to put their baby in his bassinet.

"I fell asleep," said Mark. "The alarm woke us up."

Mark said Vanessa had Tristan in her arms when he noticed him cold and lifeless.

Summa questioned Mark about testimony given from a pastor during Clark's trial that Vanessa wanted another baby because Tristan had breathing problems. Mark argued that testimony was untrue.

Summa also questioned Mark about a statement he made during the trial, where he said Vanessa was sometimes "hard" on the 3-year-old child.

Due to a pending aggravated assault charge, District Judge Paul White decided between both councils not to ask certain questions of Mark. With that decision, the prosecution decided to pass the witness to the defense.

The defense asked Mark about his love for Vanessa and their children. Mark described his wife as a caring mother.

"She had actually set a doctor's appointment for nine o'clock that morning," said Clark.

Mark stated Vanessa is now a stay-at-home mother, and they have no plans to have any more children.

The prosecution then rested, and the defense called Wanda Snider as their first witness. Snider testified she is Vanessa's grandmother.

"I think she's matured a lot in the past few years. She's had a very hard life, and she's a precious child in my eyes," said Snider.

The defense then asked the witness about Vanessa's relationship with the child living with Vanessa.

"I think she's been a very loving mother to Jaden," said Snider.

The witness also testified Vanessa has been a good mother to her other child that lives with the other grandmother.

"It would separate her from her family. Her family would be destroyed. What would it do to Jaden?" said Snider.

The defense countered this testimony by pointing out Clark has previously been to prison and had probations revoked due to violation of the terms.

The defense called upon Bobbie Madden, Vanessa's grandfather, to the stand. Madden said he had adopted one of Vanessa and Mark's children. Due to trouble Vanessa was having in the child, the defense described, Vanessa ended up spending five years in prison.

Madden said Vanessa has regularly seen her son, Shane, who is now 14. Madden described it was a normal mother and son relationship.

Madden said Vanessa has been clear of trouble since her time in prison.

Summa reminded Madden of Clark's criminal history, some of which the witness was unaware of.

The defense called upon a teacher at Pineywoods Academy who taught Jaden, Clark's son, last year. She testified that Clark was a loving and concerned parent. She agreed with the defense attorney that it would be devastating for Clark and her child to be separated. With no questions from the prosecution, the witness was dismissed.

The defense called upon Pamela Madden, Clark's sister-in-law, as the next witness. Madden testified she was pregnant at the same time as Clark and they have been good friends.

"A lot of people turned their back on her. But, I didn't," said Madden.

Madden said she was in Lufkin visiting Clark the weekend before Tristan's death. She said Tristan was congested and Clark said she had an appointment for him the next day.

"Did you know that when she was pregnant that she signed a release to get tanning while she was pregnant with Tristan, despite warnings that it wasn't good?" said Summa.

After a brief discussion between both counsels, Madden was dismissed from the stand.

The defense called upon Donna Cox, Clark's niece, as the next witness.

Cox described Clark having a tough upbringing, with both of her parents "using". Surrounding the circumstances, Cox says Clark has made the best with what she has.

"She attends church. She's a loving devoted mother and wife. She has grown and become an outstanding young lady," said Cox.

Cox explained that Clark's five year prison sentence helped her to change, and since the prison time, Clark has only had one theft charge in the last seven years.

"She came out of it a different person. She did what she had to do, and she learned from it," said Cox.

The defense asked Cox what she thought would be a good sentencing for Clark. Cox said Clark could grow in the church or in counseling, but not in prison.

"I do believe 100 percent that it would be destructive to separate that family unit," said Cox.

Cox described that she lost a 29-day-old child to a congenital birth defect, and she said she knows how hard it is to lose a child.

The prosecution asked Cox about Clark's son, Shane, being adopted. Cox expressed that she told her parents to let Shane go live with Vanessa again after she got out of prison.

The defense called upon Vanessa Clark as the last witness. Clark was first asked to describe what led to her five year prison sentence. Clark said she was under the influence and "out of her mind" one night at a party.

"I got into an argument," said Clark. "I pulled out a knife. I was in the dark and couldn't see. I took one slash and didn't know where I hit."

Following the five year prison sentence, she was released on August 19, 2005. Clark's attorney then asked Clark about her relationship with her son Shane. Clark said they had a good relationship.

"Last Friday night we went to the movies," said Clark.

Clark also talked about the theft charge she was arrested on. Clark said she pleaded guilty to the charge in order to pay the fine amount and be released to go home to her young child.

Clark was also asked about the last time she used Hydrocodone. Clark said she decided to stop before her pre-sentencing investigation.

"It's been months ago, the last time I touched it," said Clark.

Clark also talked about her doctor giving her permission to tan after the first three months of pregnancy. Clark said she adhered to his orders.

"I wouldn't have done it otherwise," said Clark.

Clark said she used spray tans during the time she was not allowed to go to fully tan.

Clark also addressed her prescription pill addiction, which she described stemmed from a back injury. For a period of time, she switched doctors often for more medicines.

"I have every reason to do the right thing now. I have a family that I love very very much," said Clark.

Clark said her faith and "putting her mind to it" helped her to combat her drug addiction.

"Ultimately, it's up to me," said Clark.

Clark said if she were tested today, the only drug that would show up in her system would be Xanax. Clark briefly explained some of the hardships in her growing up, but it's helped her to become a better person.

"I had a bad childhood. My growing up wasn't good. I found my mom overdosed twice, when I was six and eight," said Clark. "Prison completely changed me and changed everything I wanted out of life."

A tearful Clark made a plea, saying, "please don't take me away from my family."

During cross examination, the prosecution asked Clark about her criminal history.

Summa also asked Clark about her choice to go tan during pregnancy. Clark argued that the tanning posed no threat to the baby's health. The risk, she says, was just that her body could overheat.

Summa also asked Clark about "promising" not to sleep with another child after Christian's death. Clark questioned whether she actually promised, but rather she agreed she wouldn't do it again.

"I said that if I had known and had knowledge that it wouldn't happen again," said Clark.

Clark argued that she accidentally fell asleep in bed with Tristan. After trying to lay him in his bed after she thought she put him to sleep, Clark said the baby woke back up. Therefore, she took him into the bed with her.

Summa also questioned Clark about the protective order she filed against her husband. In the complaint, Clark said that Mark was physically abusive. Summa read a couple of complaints from the paperwork.

"You say he grabbed be around during my pregnancy. He hit me in the back of my head, threw me down, and kicked me between my legs. Did you say that?" said Summa.

Clark admitted that incident happened, but she said "he's (Mark) a safe person now". Clark said she had the protective order dismissed within ten days. Clark argued that Mark has since changed and is "a good father and a wonderful husband".

"We've had our problems. We've definitely had problems. But, we're moving forward now," said Clark.

In a tearful final plea, Clark asked to be able to be present to send her son Jaden off to school on Monday and continue growing her relationship with her "soul-mate".

"Please God don't send me to prison," said Clark.

Copyright 2012 KTRE. All rights reserved.