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New information about mother of murdered Vt. toddler - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

New information about mother of murdered Vt. toddler

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Dezirae Sheldon Dezirae Sheldon
Sandra Eastman (left) Sandra Eastman (left)
MONTPELIER, Vt. - A Vermont toddler's life was cut short when police say she was murdered last month. Dezirae Sheldon's stepfather is charged with the crime. But the 2-year-old's death sparked questions about why the little girl was even living with Dennis Duby and her biological mother, Sandra Eastman. In July 2013, Eastman pleaded guilty to child cruelty for failing to get Dezirae prompt medical care for a broken leg.*

"I think the whole story is dismaying and I think the whole story of children being mistreated is dismaying," said Dave Yacovone, the commissioner of the Vt. Department for Children and Families.

In the wake of Dezirae's death, a special Senate Child Protection Panel was formed to examine Vermont's child protection system. Wednesday, lawmakers announced a troubling discovery about Dezirae's mom.

"Why wasn't it caught?" asked Sen. Peg Flory, R-Rutland County.

Statehouse legislative counsel found a series of mistakes in Eastman's criminal record. In 2008, she was convicted of lewd and lascivious conduct with a child after admitting to having sex with a 15-year-old boy and getting pregnant with his child. She struck a deal with prosecutors, but the charge was coded incorrectly and her record only reflected lewd and lascivious conduct, no mention of child involvement.

Then lawmakers discovered Eastman spent less time behind bars than the statutory minimum for the crime.

And finally, Eastman was supposed to be a lifetime registrant of the public sex offender registry, yet her name is nowhere to be found.

"It's good to put this out in the open so that more people are aware of the challenges that sadly far too many children in Vermont face," Yacovone said.

The cascading mistakes left lawmakers wondering-- had Eastman's record been right, would it have changed the court's decision to return Dezirae to her mother's care?

"Would that be enough?" asked Sen. Dick Sears, D-Bennington County.

Both child protection officials and prosecutors told the panel custody decisions are complex, based on several factors.

"So whether you could show that mom who has sex with a 15-year-old boy when she's 24 constitutes a danger to a 3-year-old girl child? I think you got a tough time making that case," Windsor County State's Attorney Mike Kainen said.

Lawmakers have more questions and want answers public documents can't provide.

"I want the committee to consider getting a subpoena power from the Senate," Sears said.

Yacovone calls the mistakes significant, but he would not discuss Dezirae's case specifically.

"We're in the midst of doing our internal review right now and I can't comment on what we've found and what haven't found out. I'm not at liberty. We may have found it, we may not have," Yacovone said.

Yacovone says DCF will comment on the case once its internal review is complete. The department will also turn over its internal review to an external panel that's independently examining the case.

Click here to read the request letter for legislative counsel review.

*Editor's note: Authorities brought to our attention on June 26, 2014, that WCAX News previously reported Sandra Eastman was convicted of breaking Dezirae Sheldon's leg. That was incorrect. Eastman was convicted of child cruelty by medical neglect. We apologize for the error.

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