ANCHORAGE - A woman who spent more than five years incarcerated for killing a baby by smashing his head into a hard surface in her kitchen has done enough time, a judge ruled.
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Superior Court Judge Philip Volland found that Michele Dague's actions were uncharacteristic, a one-time event, for the woman who had no criminal history. Her good behavior in prison and afterward shows that she's not likely to hurt anyone else, he said.
"She, in my judgment, is unlikely to ever place herself into that kind of position again," he said.
Dague was a licensed day-care provider when the 10-month-old boy, Kyle Tellsworth, died in her care in 1997. She was originally convicted of second-degree murder, but she appealed and won a new trial.
In 2004, she was convicted of the lesser crime of manslaughter, for which the punishment is at least five years. She'd already served nearly six before Friday's hearing.
Soon after the second trial, Volland allowed her to leave prison to await the hearing to decide whether she'd served enough time. Dague moved to Arkansas and made a life with her husband and daughter on a military base.
Prosecutor John Novak argued that Dague, 39, should go back to jail. She could hurt other children, he said. Volland should send a message to the community that child abuse is wrong, he said.
Dague's lawyer, Elizabeth Brennan, said that Dague had made a grave mistake, but that she'd paid for her crime and had been a model citizen since.
Kyle Tellsworth's mother and grandmother, Linda and Ruby Tellsworth, pleaded by telephone for Dague to be sent back to jail.
"She took so much away from this family, it will never, ever be the same," Linda Tellsworth said, and then addressed her comments to Dague.
"I can't see you, Michele, but I tell you that I hope you're suffering."
In both trials, Dague admitted to banging the baby's head against a hard surface.
She called 911 soon after, but lied to investigators at first about what had happened. The impact of the blow crushed the baby's skull. The day after, he died in the hospital.
In prison, Dague went to group therapy, took every class available to her and organized a Girl Scout troop for inmates' daughters, including her own. In Arkansas, she was active in her church and had the support of her pastor, Brennan said.
Given a chance to speak for herself, Dague broke into tears.
"I'm so sorry for all of this," she said. "I don't walk out of this unscathed."