KENNEWICK — A 23-year-old Kennewick woman who acknowledged she is not "a perfect mom" will do time on a work crew for leaving her two young children alone in a bathtub.
Her youngest son, who was 17 months old, nearly drowned in the tub and suffered permanent brain damage.
Judge Cameron Mitchell told Chrystal Garcia before sentencing her in Benton County Superior Court that he knows Garcia's already suffered the consequences of her actions.
But he also found Garcia criminally liable for her son's injuries when he ruled her guilty of third-degree assault with aggravating circumstance.
Never miss a local story.
"Having to witness the ongoing suffering of her child and being aware she had a hand in that is going to be much more punishment than incarceration," Mitchell said.
Garcia faced a standard range of one to three months in jail, but prosecutors sought an exceptional six-month sentence because of the injuries the child suffered.
Mitchell, however, sided with the defense, which argued a one-month sentence was appropriate. Mitchell also said Garcia could complete the time on work crew.
An exceptional sentence "is not going to relieve the child's pain. It's not going to lessen his injuries. It's not going to improve his life," Mitchell said.
According to court documents, Garcia put her son, Armando, in a warm bath with his then 3-year-old brother on Christmas Eve when Armando woke up after being put to bed and was fussy.
She gave him Tylenol and Benadryl and a bottle of milk, then left the two boys unsupervised in the bathtub for five or more minutes.
Garcia left the bathroom to attend to cooking in the kitchen and stopped to see what her boyfriend was watching on TV, then reported hearing a thumping sound coming from the bathroom.
She said she thought a child was jumping in the water, but when she went to check she saw Armando face-down in the water.
The 3-year-old had unsuccessfully tried to pull his brother's head out of the water but kept dropping his head, causing the thumping sounds.
Armando was without oxygen for at least two minutes and suffered permanent brain damage.
Mitchell said the boy's injuries are "horrific."
"If in fact there can be a situation where one might be better off not to survive, this could be one of those situations," the judge said.
Armando requires full-time medical care, a feeding tube and breathing assistance devices and his vision and hearing are impaired.
The boy's muscles also are permanently flexed, leaving him in constant pain, and he remains in a state of semi-consciousness.
Garcia was charged with third-degree assault and first-degree criminal mistreatment, but Mitchell acquitted her of the second charge after a one-day bench trial earlier this month.
"I'm not a perfect mom, but who is?" Garcia said as she became emotional. "I know I did wrong."
She said if she could go back in time and not leave her children alone in the bathtub, she would. She also said she's working to get her son back and has made arrangements for him to be transferred to a medical facility in Walla Walla next week.
"He's doing good. He's just too far from me to learn his needs. But he will be home sometime in the future," she said.
Deputy Prosecutor Christine Bennett requested the exceptional sentence because of the severity of Armando's injuries and Garcia's "somewhat lack of taking responsibility for her actions."
Bennett said on the recorded interview with police Garcia was heard saying she didn't do anything wrong.
"What she did was wrong. It was very wrong," Bennett said. She said an exceptional sentence was warranted if it's "the way to get her to learn what she did was wrong."
Defense attorney Larry Ziegler, however, was adamant that his client shouldn't even have been charged in the case, let alone be found guilty.
"She made what I thought was a terrible mistake," Ziegler said. "I do not think the assault statute was ever meant to apply to cases like this. ... I firmly believe this issue involved in this case is something that's going to be decided by a higher tribunal."
He said the state made the case out to be that Garcia was a "constantly bad mother," but that was not the case. She cared for her boys, didn't give them sweets or sodas and kept them clean and fed, he said.
"It makes absolutely no legal or practical sense to me to lock this lady up," he said.
Ziegler also said Garcia was following the procedures in the dependency case filed by the state to try to get her son back. He also filed a notice of appeal in the case.