December 14, 2019

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Judge jails father eight years in daughter's 'horrific, heartbreaking' death from abuse and neglect

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This article was published 19/10/2018 (420 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

A Peguis First Nation father who neglected his toddler daughter and left her to "waste away" while she was being physically abused by her mother is considering whether he'll appeal the eight-year prison sentence he received for contributing to her death.

Daniel Williams, 37, was sentenced Friday to eight years in prison after a jury convicted him of manslaughter in the July 2014 death of his 21-month-old daughter Kierra Williams. A year after Child and Family Services took Kierra out of foster care and returned her to her parents, she died at the hands of her mother.

Kierra Williams</p>

Kierra Williams

"To say that this case is tragic is an understatement. Kierra was completely helpless and she suffered. She was mistreated and neglected by her own parents. She was withdrawn from contact with her extended family and her community. The facts in this case are both horrific and heartbreaking," Court of Queen's Bench Justice Sadie Bond said as she delivered the sentence.

Advocate's investigation underway

As the criminal process comes to a close in Kierra Williams' death, a child advocacy investigation is ramping up to look into gaps in social services that may have affected the 21-month-old before she died.

Ainsley Krone, deputy Manitoba advocate for children and youth, said Friday the advocate's office will be able to interview Kierra's family and those who knew her once the appeal period closes on Daniel Williams' sentence. At the same time Williams was being sentenced Friday, the office was releasing its first public child-death report. Krone said the public can expect a commitment to transparency in its future investigations, including Kierra's case.

 

As the criminal process comes to a close in Kierra Williams' death, a child advocacy investigation is ramping up to look into gaps in social services that may have affected the 21-month-old before she died.

Ainsley Krone, deputy Manitoba advocate for children and youth, said Friday the advocate's office will be able to interview Kierra's family and those who knew her once the appeal period closes on Daniel Williams' sentence. At the same time Williams was being sentenced Friday, the office was releasing its first public child-death report. Krone said the public can expect a commitment to transparency in its future investigations, including Kierra's case.

"Our key focus is going to be on wanting to speak to people who knew the child and who provided service to the child and their family. Those are the pieces that are on hold for us right now while the criminal (process) is underway," Krone said.

"If there are gaps in the system, then what are the recommendations that our office can make and track to see changes and improvements for kids that are dependent on public services?

"So there's a few different focuses of the report, but certainly telling the story of the child is the key focus for us."

During the criminal case, the advocate's office was able to review written files related to Kierra's death, and Krone said it's not uncommon for them to review court material as well, although that's not the goal of their investigation.

The court process for Kierra's parents involved preliminary inquiry testimony from two CFS workers who said they didn't notice any abuse or see any signs something was wrong. CFS stopped visiting Kierra's home about six months before she died and officially closed the family's file a month before her death on July 17, 2014.

"I never had any concerns. I would have noticed if something was wrong because I’ve worked with so many children," a retired CFS worker testified in 2016.

Kierra was placed in CFS care when she was born because her two older siblings had already been taken into care due to domestic violence allegations Bushie made against Williams in 2012. He was charged with assault and uttering threats in April 2012, as well as another count of assault and breaches in September 2012. All of those charges were stayed soon afterward and the family completed programming to regain custody of their children.

Vanessa Bushie fatally assaulted her daughter after subjecting her to months of malnourishment and serious injuries including broken bones and a cracked skull. Bushie is serving a life sentence after she pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in Kierra's death, and Williams argued he should be spared jail time because he was also a victim of Bushie's abuse.

The judge disagreed.

"In my view, that Mr. Williams may have been intimidated by a domineering or abusive spouse has a very limited impact on his moral blameworthiness in this case. It may be that Mr. Williams felt that Ms. Bushie would not listen to him, but that doesn't explain how he could have left Kierra to waste away and suffer from her injuries without care," Bond said.

"He was not kept a prisoner in his home. He could have reached out for help."

Crown prosecutors were seeking a nine-year sentence, while defence lawyer Greg Brodsky argued Williams should receive a suspended sentence and probation because he suffered "learned helplessness" as a symptom of Battered Spouse Syndrome.

A counsellor who started seeing Williams in April 2015 previously testified Williams showed signs of the syndrome and would've been afraid to challenge Bushie's parenting decisions because of the verbal, emotional and sometimes physical abuse she inflicted on him. Bond said there was a lack of independent evidence about how Bushie treated Williams, since the counsellor made the assessment based only on what Williams told him after Kierra died.

Brodsky, who was the first lawyer to successfully use the defence of Battered Spouse Syndrome in Canada in the 1980s, questioned the judge's reasoning in court Friday and later said her interpretation of the syndrome was "somewhat unexpected."

"He shouldn't be punished for being a battered spouse," Brodsky told reporters outside the courtroom, saying he is considering an appeal.

"Fortunately or unfortunately, he trusts me, so whether we appeal or not, whether he wants to appeal or not, we'll wait until I digest better the judgment the judge ordered today."

A Mountie escorts Vanessa Bushie into the community hall at Peguis First Nation for her preliminary hearing in 2016. (Wayne Glowacki / Winnipeg Free Press files)

A Mountie escorts Vanessa Bushie into the community hall at Peguis First Nation for her preliminary hearing in 2016. (Wayne Glowacki / Winnipeg Free Press files)

Timeline for Kierra’s case

Oct. 8, 2012 — Kierra Elektra Star Williams is born in Winnipeg, apprehended at birth by Child and Family Services and taken into foster care. A few months later, supervised visits with her family begin.

Jan. 30, 2013 — Kierra is temporarily removed from a foster mother’s care due to an argument between the mother and another foster daughter. The incident is unrelated to the care of Kierra and no criminal charges are laid.

 

Oct. 8, 2012 — Kierra Elektra Star Williams is born in Winnipeg, apprehended at birth by Child and Family Services and taken into foster care. A few months later, supervised visits with her family begin.

Jan. 30, 2013 — Kierra is temporarily removed from a foster mother’s care due to an argument between the mother and another foster daughter. The incident is unrelated to the care of Kierra and no criminal charges are laid.

March 2, 2013— Kierra is returned to her foster mother. She is treated for an ear infection and a rash that developed while she was away, and is considered healthy.

July 2013 — Kierra is returned to her parents after they complete all programming required by CFS, which had conducted a home inspection, developed a reunification plan and decided the baby and her two older siblings were safe to return.

July 2013 to late-2013 — CFS officials continue to monitor the family and set up a contract for another family member to work in the home as a support for the parents. She is to be responsible for looking after the children and helping ensure they are well cared for.

October 2013 — Kierra’s mother, Vanessa Bushie, has a heart attack and recovers.

Jan. 12, 2014 — CFS visits the home for the last time, and finds nothing of concern. The agency decides to close the file.

February 2014 — CFS agreement with Kierra’s older half-sister, Jasmine Bushie, expires. Jasmine Bushie contacts the CFS agency, Intertribal Family Services, about her cheque. She reports children are doing fine — the last information CFS has about their care.

June 2014 — The CFS file is officially closed.

July 17, 2014 — Twenty-one-month-old Kierra is rushed to hospital after paramedics receive a call about an infant in distress. Medical staff try to revive her, but are unsuccessful. She is pronounced dead.

January 2015 — Kierra’s death is deemed a homicide. RCMP lay criminal charges against the girl’s mother, father and sister.

Dec. 5, 2016 — A preliminary inquiry begins to determine whether there is enough evidence for the criminal case to go to trial. The Crown drops charges against Jasmine Bushie.

Dec. 20, 2016 — Vanessa Bushie and Daniel Williams are committed to stand trial in Manitoba Court of Queen’s Bench.

Jan. 19, 2017 — Jasmine Bushie sues RCMP and Intertribal Child and Family Services, claiming they wrongfully accused her in her sister's death and seriously damaged her reputation. The lawsuit is still before the court. The attorney general issued a statement of defence in April 2017 saying Manitoba RCMP conducted a "careful, cautious and conscientious" homicide investigation.

April 3, 2017 — Bushie pleads guilty to second-degree murder in her daughter’s death.

Aug. 2, 2017 — Bushie is sentenced to life in prison, with no chance of parole for 14 years.

Feb. 26, 2018 — A jury convicts Williams of manslaughter in Kierra’s death.

July 26, 2018 — Court of Queen’s Bench Justice Sadie Bond hears sentencing submissions. The Crown seeks a nine-year sentence for Williams, the defence asks for no jail time.

Oct. 19, 2018 — Williams is sentenced to eight years in prison. Bond describes the case as "horrific and heartbreaking."

Bond emphasized Kierra's parents made a "deliberate choice" not to take her to the hospital or allow her to be seen in the community because they feared CFS would again take away their two older children.

"We both made that decision because we didn't want to lose our other babies," Williams told RCMP when he was interviewed during the police investigation. "I was hoping she would get better, but she didn't."

It's "simply impossible to accept" that Williams believed Kierra would heal without medical intervention, Bond decided, because of her obvious injuries.

By the time paramedics rushed her to hospital on July 17, 2014, Kierra's skin was already turning grey. She weighed only 17 pounds and looked more like a nine-month-old baby than a nearly two-year-old girl. She had several broken bones, a cracked skull, five missing teeth, a dislocated shoulder and an eroded nose, which was blamed on eczema.

According to testimony from Kierra’s older half-sisters, who babysat for her and saw how Bushie treated her, the toddler was hit, pushed, slapped, force-fed and kept in a locked room for hours or even days without food or a diaper change and made to sleep on the floor.

CFS workers didn't notice the abuse, according to previous court testimony. A social worker visited the family's home for the final time in January 2014, finding the house well-kept and the children well cared for. Kierra was sleeping at the time.

Before he was sentenced Friday, Williams had been on bail since his arrest in the homicide and is considered a low risk to reoffend, having been described as a gentle, thoughtful, hard-working man who had a stable upbringing with his seven siblings. He previously told Bond he devoted himself to his work and didn't pay enough attention to what was happening at home.

katie.may@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @thatkatiemay

Katie May

Katie May
Justice reporter

Katie May reports on courts, crime and justice for the Free Press.

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