By SCOTT WEISSER email@example.com
---- — LAGRANGE — A Topeka woman who violated the terms of her probation in a case involving a toddler’s death was sentenced to the Indiana Department of Correction Friday.
Christy Shaffer will serve a six-year sentence, according to the ruling handed down in LaGrange Circuit Court. The judge said he’d recommend that substance abuse counseling be made available to Shaffer, and that she be housed in a DOC facility where that counseling is available.
Shaffer was given credit for around 150 days she’s already been incarcerated on the probation offense.
Last month in Circuit Court, Shaffer admitted she’d violated probation by using or possessing methamphetamine. She tested positive for meth on a drug screen in November of last year.
Shaffer had been on probation on a Class B felony charge of neglect of a dependent. The charge rose from the death of 16-month-old Alissa Guernsey. Guernsey, born Nov. 2, 2007, was the daughter of Shaffer’s cousin, Kelli Sprunger. The child became a ward of the state and was placed into foster care with Shaffer.
Guernsey died March 28, 2009, while in Shaffer’s care. Court documents indicate the child had suffered blunt-force trauma. In June 2009, a grand jury indicted Shaffer on two counts of neglect of a dependent, one a Class B felony charge and the other a Class C felony.
Shaffer pleaded guilty to the Class B felony neglect charge in February 2011. On May 25 of that year, LaGrange Circuit Court Judge J. Scott VanDerbeck imposed a 10-year sentence — four years in the Indiana Department of Correction and six years suspended.
Part of VanDerbeck’s sentencing order stated Shaffer could petition the court for early release after going through the DOC’s Reception Diagnostic Center. Shaffer did this.
On Aug. 11, 2011, VanDerbeck modified Shaffer’s sentence, ordering her to complete six months on the court’s home monitoring program followed by three years on probation.
VanDerbeck later recused himself from the controversial case. Visiting DeKalb County Judge Kevin Wallace heard Shaffer admit the probation violation last month, and issued the sentence Friday.
A child’s death
Goshen attorney Phil Miller represented Shaffer in court Friday. He likened Alissa Guernsey’s death to a bell that sounded five years ago — and the echoes are still being heard.
“They provoke feelings of revenge, or feelings of sympathy or mercy,” Miller said. “... Those sounds are everywhere. Those feelings are everywhere.”
Miller said there’s no question that Shaffer’s world caved in “after this tragic bell rang.” Her problems included suffering from depression and anxiety.
LeAnn Anders, chief probation officer for LaGrange Circuit Court, recounted a conversation with Shaffer about the probation violation.
“She stated she was mad at the world so she chose to use drugs,” Anders said. She recommended that probation be revoked and that Shaffer serve out her sentence in the Department of Correction.
Miller suggested a one-year term of incarceration for Shaffer, followed by time spent in a treatment program and then a term of probation.
“She needs to work on herself,” Miller said.
Responding to a question from Judge Wallace, Shaffer indicated she would benefit from a rehabilitation program as opposed to incarceration.
“I think I would get more of the help I would need,” the mother of three said before the sentence was handed down.
An email from Alissa Guernsey’s mother was submitted into evidence Friday. Prosecutor Jeff Wible said the theme of the email was that Shaffer should not be given any leniency.
Wible said hundreds of people worldwide have expressed an opinion about the case — they want revenge. The prosecutor stressed that revenge is not the goal of the state. Wible also asked for the six-year maximum term, minus time served.
“(Shaffer) was given a tremendous opportunity...and she did in fact squander it by violating the law,” he said.
Shaffer also faces Class D felony charges of possession of methamphetamine and maintaining a common nuisance. A court hearing on those charges is set for May 16.