Caretaker of abused Utah woman takes plea deal

Courts • Woman pleads guilty to aggravated abuse, manslaughter.
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A Kearns woman accused of murder after a 22-year-old disabled woman died in her care has pleaded guilty to reduced charges.

Cassandra Marie Shepard, 29, pleaded guilty Monday 3rd District Court to aggravated abuse of a vulnerable adult, a first-degree felony, and manslaughter, a second-degree felony.

She is scheduled to be sentenced on March 22 by Judge Katherine Bernards-Goodman

Shepard faces five years to life in prison for the abuse count and one to 15 years for the manslaughter count. As part of a plea deal, prosecutors will recommend that the two sentences run concurrently.

Shepard was the legal guardian of Christina Harms, who died on March 25, 2011. On that day, police were called to a possible overdose at a Kearns home in the 4900 South block of 5415 West and found Harms unconscious, according to the Unified Police Department. She was later pronounced dead.

When Harms, who had fetal alcohol syndrome, was found on the floor of the family's home in Kearns, she had bruises on her body, bandages wrapped tightly around her arms and fingers, and a pepper seed stuck under one eyelid.

Police and prosecutors say the adults in the home — Shepard and her mother, Sherrie Lynn Beckering, and step-father, Dale Robert Beckering — would bind Harms' limbs with zip ties and keep her tied to a bar in a closet.

The closet had an alarm system and a knife was stuck in the door to prevent Harms from escaping. Inside the closet was a piece of cardboard with remnants of human feces, scented pine cones and a sketch of Jesus Christ, officials have said.

An autopsy found Harms was severely dehydrated and had potentially fatal levels of Benadryl or a similar drug in her system.

A jury in September found Sherrie Beckering guilty of first-degree felony aggravated abuse of a disabled adult. In January, a judge sentenced the 51-year-old woman to five years to life in prison for her role in Harms' death.

In February 2012, a jury convicted Dale Beckering, 54, of abuse of a vulnerable adult. He is serving up to 15 years in prison.

Shepard was originally charged with murder and aggravated abuse of a disable adult — both first-degree felonies — as well as obstructing justice, a second-degree felony.

Twitter: @jm_miller