A Jackson County judge sentenced Jacole Prince on Friday to 34 years in prison for endangering, abusing and assaulting the 10-year-old daughter she repeatedly kept locked in a closet of their Kansas City apartment.
Prince tried to walk out of the courtroom after the judge imposed the sentence, but officers stopped her. She yelled at the judge, “Shut up, mother ------,” before being escorted out in handcuffs.
She screamed all the way down the hallway.
Never miss a local story.
Supporters followed her in tears.
A jury had recommended the 34-year sentence in November, after Prince was convicted of first-degree assault, child abuse and child endangerment.
At trial, prosecutors described how Prince repeatedly locked her daughter in a closet, seldom feeding her, keeping her out of school and neglecting to see that she got adequate medical care.
In the sentencing hearing Friday, Assistant Jackson County Prosecutor Trisha Lacey argued that Prince should receive the full 34-year sentence recommended by the jury, and nothing less. She said Prince had shown no remorse and that earlier interventions by the state had not prevented the abuse.
“This is not a situation where we can have rehabilitiation,” Lacey said. “We tried rehabilitation and it failed. So we are left with punishment.”
Police and a child welfare worker rescued the girl, known as LP, from the barricaded closet in June 2012 after an anonymous caller alerted authorities.
At the time, LP weighed 32 pounds and wore a toddler-size shirt. A girl her age should have weighed nearly twice that, according to testimony presented at trial. LP underwent a heart transplant in 2013. Whether LP’s heart disease was caused by the abuse was disputed at trial.
Lacey said LP’s new heart will likely last only 10 or 15 years, and LP will continue to suffer periodic heart failures throughout life. “This is going to be never-ending for LP.”
It remains unknown exactly when Prince started putting LP in the closet, or exactly how long she stayed there. LP first came to the attention of the state’s child welfare system in February 2006.
Prince’s defense team had argued that the mother had a personality disorder and other mental health issues that affected her ability to parent and made her believe she was protecting her daughter by keeping her in the closet. Prince was ill-equipped and overwhelmed, her attorneys said.
But prosecutors countered that Prince was able to make sure her two younger daughters were always well dressed. Prince made sure LP’s sister got on her school bus every morning.
Defense attorney Curtis Winegarner asked the court to consider a lower sentence of about 20 years, taking into account Prince’s own history of abuse as a child and other problems.
“She is not a monster,” Winegarner said. “I’m seeing a very sad and pathetic woman.”
In blaming Prince, the court should not forget the failure of anyone around the family to intervene, Winegarner said, as LP suddenly disapeared from school for an extended period.
“No one cared,” he said. “No one inquired, no one ever checked.”
On Friday, Prince told the court that she loved her children. When she had problems raising her daughter, she had wanted to seek help at times, she said.
“I didn’t intend for any of this to happen,” Prince said. “I wanted to seek help. But everybody kept blaming me for what I’d been doing.”
“So I took matters into my own hands.”
Jackson County Circuit Court Judge J. Dale Youngs imposed the full 34 years recommended by the jury — 20 years for assault, seven years for child abuse and seven years for child endangerment, all to run consecutively.
“This defendant systematically and, yes, knowingly imprisoned her daughter and starved her for a number of years and nearly to death,” Youngs said.