Butler County Times Gazette
  • Child abuse, Butler County’s dirty little secret

  • The coroner said 18-month-old Jayla Haag had bruises all over her body, multiple burn marks and six missing teeth when she died on March 30, 2012. But when Butler County Judge David Ricke sentenced Jayla’s mother for involuntary manslaughter last summer, it was more for what she didn’t do, than what she did. Alyss...
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  • The coroner said 18-month-old Jayla Haag had bruises all over her body, multiple burn marks and six missing teeth when she died on March 30, 2012. But when Butler County Judge David Ricke sentenced Jayla’s mother for involuntary manslaughter last summer, it was more for what she didn’t do, than what she did. Alyssa Haag did not raise the hand that killed little Jayla, but the judge said she did not do enough to prevent the death of her child.
    “Every day, Alyssa says she wishes she would have done something different,” said Marci Beattie, Alyssa’s mother.
    Last year there were about 293 children in the court system in Butler County because of abuse and neglect issues. Every year the Department for Children and Families is assigned more than 750 cases concerning children’s welfare in Butler County. Butler County abuse reports are surpassed only by those counties surrounding Wichita, Salina and Kansas City. In 2012, one of those cases was a welfare check on Jayla. The case worker found nothing out of the ordinary.
     
    What went wrong?
    Alyssa Haag had a history of picking the wrong men. At 17 years old, she had a child with a young man Marci described as abusive and controlling. She realized she wasn’t able to care for a baby at her age and put the child up for adoption.
    “She had no education, no job and no car. They just weren’t fit to be parents and they knew that,” said Marci. “It was the right thing to do and we were really proud of them for making that decision.”
    Several years passed and Alyssa was pregnant again. Marci said this time it was by a young man who had a criminal record, a claim confirmed by the Kansas Department of Corrections. Still, Marci said, Alyssa was determined to have a better outcome for herself and her child than she did the first time.
    “She made some bad choices, but Alyssa was an excellent mom. There was not one thing that child lacked for,” said Marci. “If she couldn’t provide something for Jayla, she would ask one of us.”
    Marci said she was there the day Jayla was born and when she came home from the hospital. Alyssa and Jayla lived with Marci until Jayla was nearly a year old.
    “She was your normal typical toddler, of course to us, cuter than most,” said Sue Beattie, Alyssa’s grandmother. “She had long, long eyelashes, she was very pretty, very active and wasn’t shy at all.”
    Page 2 of 7 - Sue also added Jayla was smart and she was walking when she was just 10 1/2 months old. By this time, Alyssa had once again started seeing a man with a criminal record and a past including drug use.
    “Just before Jayla turned a year old, Alyssa moved in with Justin Edwards, who can put on a really good front,” said Marci. “He had two girls of his own that were 4 and 8 years old at the time.”
    Marci said Justin didn’t work and rarely left the house. He expected Alyssa to take care of him and his children. It wasn’t long before Justin turned controlling and abusive toward Alyssa.
    “If Alyssa went to pick up Justin’s daughter at school he would make her leave Jayla with him so she would have to come back,” said Marci. “I saw bruises on Alyssa. She went to work one time with a black eye. But she always had a reason for the bruises.”
    Marci and Sue both said they saw Jayla often and never saw any marks on her. They also said Jayla didn’t seem to be afraid of Justin. Sue, who used to serve on the board for Children’s Appointed Special Advocate’s (CASA), would know the signs.
    “She came over to see our new puppy a week before she was hurt and she had no visible injuries,” said Sue. “We think the injuries that killed her happened in a very short amount of time.”
    But according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, the biggest sign Justin might have abused Jayla were the bruises on Alyssa. That organization says women ages 20-24 are most often the victims of domestic violence and as many as 60 percent of people who engage in domestic violence against their partner, will also abuse their children.
    Marci believes Alyssa was afraid to leave, as statistics show victims of domestic violence often are. Added to that was the fact Alyssa was now doing drugs. Something Marci didn’t suspect at the time.
    “I had been over there several times and never saw anything, never smelled anything,” said Marci. “But I know now that meth was a factor. Alyssa said the first time she did it he wanted her to do it.”
    Janet Jacobs, director of the Tri-County CASA, said about 70 percent of their cases in Butler County involve drug abuse by a parent. Nationally that number is only about half.
    “There is a misconception that parents who abuse their kids don’t love them and that isn’t really true,” said Jacobs. “That makes it even more difficult to deal with these situations.”
    Page 3 of 7 - Because of the drugs, Marci said the DCF was called out to Justin and Alyssa’s home several times to do welfare checks on Jayla.
    “I was even there one time when they came,” said Marci. “They never felt Jayla was in any danger.”
    “I was shocked to find that drugs alone aren’t a reason to remove a child from a home,” said Sue. “If people can function as parents, then they don’t remove the children.”
    Jayla’s father recently filed a lawsuit against the DCF alleging the agency was informed Jayla was being abused and did nothing to protect her. His family did not respond to requests for interviews.
     
    What Happened to Jayla?
    The Beattie family believes March 21, 2012 was the night Jayla received the injuries that ultimately led to her death.
    Detective Chris Jones, of El Dorado Police Department, testified in court to what Alyssa told him had happened on that fateful night.
    She said Justin had a headache and was laying down when she heard Jayla crying. She went in to the bedroom and saw Justin squeezing Jayla’s chin and telling her to shut up. Jayla quit crying and Alyssa left the room, but soon returned to find the same situation just minutes later. Jones testified she also told him she saw Justin slap Jayla.
    Later in the evening, Marci said one of Alyssa’s neighbors needed to go to the emergency room and left her child with Alyssa and Justin. Alyssa told Marci it was getting late when the neighbor called and asked Alyssa to take the child to her mother’s house. Alyssa wanted to take Jayla with her but Justin wouldn’t allow it.
    “Jayla was asleep when Alyssa left,” said Marci. “She said she wasn’t gone that long and that she thought Jayla was asleep when she got back.”
    Jones picks up the tale here saying in court Alyssa told him when she returned Jayla was lying across Justin’s lap and was groaning, and she thought Jayla talking in her sleep. A short time later Alyssa said she saw Jayla’s eyes roll back in her head and she appeared to be having a seizure. Alyssa wanted to take her to the hospital.
    “Justin told her kids have seizures all the time and let’s wait until in the morning,” said Marci. “She said she thought he was the more experienced parent and knew better than she did, plus she was afraid to go against him.”
    Page 4 of 7 - The next morning, after looking up seizures on her cell phone, Alyssa took little Jayla to the hospital, but by that time it was too late. The original story she told police wasn’t actually what happened.
    “Justin told her to tell them that Jayla fell down the stairs,” said Marci. “And that is what she originally said.”
    Bruised and broken, Jayla was transferred to HCA Wesley Medical Center in Wichita, where she lay on life support for the next eight days, with a machine breathing for her.
    “The day Jayla died, we all went and had a big meeting with all of the doctors who told us we could leave her on life support, but she was never going to get better,” said Marci. “We all went into her room to say our goodbyes around 5 p.m., and we prayed.”
    The pretty toddler, with the beautiful smile and infectious giggle, passed away quietly at 7 p.m. on March 30.
     
    Charged with murder
    “Justin forcibly removed six of Jayla’s teeth,” said Sue. “Police found them on a night stand covered with a wash cloth.”
    “Justin said he covered them because he thought Alyssa would freak out if she saw them,” said Marci.
    Blood tests also showed there was traces of meth in Jayla’s system.
    On April 2, 2012, Alyssa and her boyfriend, Justin, were arrested and charged with first-degree murder.
    “I wasn’t shocked that she was arrested, but I was shocked that she was charged with first degree murder,” said Marci.
    Justin and Alyssa appeared in court together on June 5 for a preliminary hearing. One of the detectives in the case told the court Justin punished Jayla like he did his own kids and would even bite Jayla to teach her biting was wrong.
    There was also testimony in the hearing that showed Jayla was in an environment saturated in methamphetamine and other drug usage. The judge made his decision.
    “The court does find that the state has shown probable cause to believe that Justin Edwards killed Jayla Haag as a result of child abuse on her,” said David Ricke, Butler County judge.
    But Ricke also said while she may not have inflicted the injuries on Jayla, Alyssa was responsible for Jayla’s death by putting her in such a dangerous situation.
    “At the end of the preliminary hearing the judge indicated that he knew who committed the abuse and it wasn’t Alyssa,” said Brian Beattie, Alyssa’s grandfather. “But she wasn’t without guilt.”
    Page 5 of 7 - Even though it was clear to prosecutors, detectives, the judge and the families, that Alyssa was only indirectly responsible for Jayla’s death, the first-degree murder charges against Justin were dropped and he bonded out of jail in September of 2012.
    The judge had no choice because the autopsy report on Jayla was not completed at that time. The Sedgwick County Regional Forensic Science Center, which does autopsies for Butler County, was experiencing a staffing shortage and had an autopsy backlog.
    Butler County Attorney Darrin Devinney said the murder charge could be re-filed after he received a completed autopsy report. Those charges have still not been re-filed, but Justin is currently behind bars on unrelated drug charges, and could be released as early as August of this year.
    “We have had the autopsy report for a while now and we do plan to re-file charges against Mr. Edwards,” said Devinney. “Since he is currently behind bars, it gives us time to make the best case possible against him.”
    Marci posted Alyssa’s bond in August 2012 and took her home to await her fate. The first-degree murder charges against Alyssa were eventually lowered to involuntary manslaughter.
    “Before her sentencing in July 2013, she was on house arrest,” said Marci. “She never got into any trouble. She always passed her U.A.s, and she never missed a court appointment. She did what she supposed to do.”
    Alyssa never had a trial, because she never claimed to be innocent. She pleaded guilty to the charge against her and is currently serving a 2 1/2-year prison sentence, with regret as her only companion.
     
    A mother behind bars
    Marci talks to Alyssa on the phone every day.
    “She cries, she talks about Jayla,” said Marci. “She has my mom print off pictures of Jayla and mail them to her all the time.”
    Alyssa is what is called a “level 2” prisoner giving her more phone access and more time out of her cell if she wants it. Her mom said other than phone calls, Alyssa rarely leaves her cell.
    “She could have more freedom, but she chooses to stay where she is because she has more structure there,” said Marci.
    “She is doing really well with the structure,” said Sue. “We know we will need to give her that same kind of structure when she gets out to keep her on the right path.”
    Brian, Sue and Marci Beattie alternate weekends going to Topeka to visit Alyssa, giving her the family support she needs. Since she has been in prison Alyssa has completed her high school education and says she wants to go to college when she is released.
    Page 6 of 7 - “She wants to become a counselor and speak to other people who are in abusive situations,” said Marci. “She can’t change what happened to Jayla, but she wants to help other girls figure out how to not be in her situation.”
    Marci said everyone in the prison knows why Alyssa is there and she is often called a baby killer by fellow inmates. She even had baby killer written on the tags of her clothes by an inmate who was doing laundry. Marci said Alyssa turns the other cheek at the taunts, knowing in her heart the part she played in her own child’s brutal murder.
    “She has a lot of ‘if onlys,’” said Sue.
     
    A county-wide dirty little secret
    April is Child Abuse Prevention Month, and those who think it is a problem not happening in the Butler County community, and that a case like Jayla’s couldn’t happen to anyone they know, think again.
    “The number of children that are in abusive situations is overwhelming,” said Marrylee Armstrong, Tri-County CASA volunteer for Butler County. “I don’t think the average person is aware of the abusive and neglectful situations we have here in this county.”
    Armstrong is talking about the reported cases of child abuse, but studies have shown 90 percent of child abuse goes unreported. CASA volunteers are assigned to speak for children who do make it to the court system.
    “Frequently I am assigned to a child after the first hearing,” said Armstrong. “So they don’t get lost in the system. We focus on the child. Social workers have so many cases. It is difficult for them to give the time and attention that we can give to the child.”
    There are currently 21 volunteers in the Tri-County CASA program with three more currently in training. But Jacobs said they could use twice that many in Butler County.
    “We always have a waiting list for kids,” said Jacobs. “Where the court has asked us to appoint someone and we just aren’t able to because no one is available.”
    It is easy to assume child abuse is a problem that happens in someone else’s home, in someone else’s neighborhood, but numbers provided by the Sunlight Children’s Advocacy and Right’s Foundation of Butler County show every single community in the county has reported child abuse. El Dorado has the highest numbers with Andover and Augusta coming in second and third.
    A new Web site was launched by the Junior League of Wichita to bring attention to the real and ever-present issue of child abuse in the five county region. The goal of the Web site is to help define the types of child abuse that can occur and provide the most up-to-date and accurate knowledge the public needs in order to help in a possible abuse situation.
    Page 7 of 7 - “Child abuse is a complicated issue that affects every facet of our community,” said Kristen Baker, Andover teacher who has lived in El Dorado. “Our hope is that the Web site will serve as a valuable resource for many different types of people.”
    People can visit the Web site at www.childabusewichita.org. People can also find out more about becoming a CASA volunteer by calling 316-320-0238.
     

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