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Provo • A judge on Tuesday ordered probation and jail time for a mother whose 3-month old son allegedly died at the hands of the woman's live-in boyfriend.
Brianna Brown pleaded guilty to three counts of third-degree felony child endangerment in October admitting, not to having a hand in the 2012 death of her son, Paxton Stokes, but to having marijuana in the home with her children.
At the time she entered her pleas, prosecutors dropped a first-degree felony charge of child abuse homicide.
Fourth District Judge Derek Pullan said he could not ignore the devastating consequences of Brown's drug use and decisions.
"As a consequence, Paxton suffered greatly under your care," Pullan said. "I can't simply disregard that,"
Pullan suspended a potential 15-year prison term, but Brown will go to prison if she fails to comply with the stringent terms of her three-years probation, including serving 90 days in the Utah County Jail, followed by 120 days wearing an ankle monitor.
Brown, 30, who was taken into custody following the hearing, also must complete substance abuse treatment and fulfill the requirements of a Division of Child and Family Services plan. Brown's four other children are in state custody and living in foster homes with extended family members.
Pullan ordered probation in spite of a request from prosecutors that Brown be sent to prison.
Deputy Utah County Attorney Julia Thomas told Pullan that Brown had been uncooperative during the case, providing conflicting statements to prosecutors and even lying about her continued relationship with boyfriend Joshua Jay Harding.
Harding, 31, has pleaded not guilty to a single count of child abuse homicide and is scheduled for a 10-day trial in April 2015.
Thomas told Pullan that prosecutors agreed to dismiss the child abuse homicide charge against Brown because they could not legally prove her direct involvement in Paxton's death.
On Tuesday, Paxton's paternal grandmother, Kathryn Stokes, and other family members told Pullan they believe Brown has worked hard over the past year, but that the family has been devastated by the loss of the boy. They asked Pullan to award Brown the maximum punishment.
"She hasn't really shown a lot of remorse," Stokes said, noting that Paxton seemed "disposable" to Brown, not unlike many of the men in her life, including the baby's father. "It would be a whole different story if she would have just told the truth."
After the hearing, Stokes said she wasn't sure if she was satisfied by the sentence and that her primary concern was maintaining her relationship with Brown's 4-year-old son, who is also her grandson.
Paxton died on Nov. 27, 2012, after suffering what a medical examiner said was a "closed head injury" and blunt force trauma to the head. The infant was also found to have bruises on his forehead, face and neck, along with bruising and abrasions on his left hip and leg.
Brown and Harding, who is not the baby's biological father, were both arrested nearly a year after police responded to a 911 for help at the couple's Provo home because Paxton was found unresponsive and not breathing in his bassinet. The child was taken to Utah Valley Regional Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead about an hour later.
In a police affidavit filed with the court, Harding told investigators he was changing Paxton's diaper when the boy began to cry. Harding claimed he tried to calm the baby with a pacifier and a bottle, but ultimately left the boy in his bassinet to cry himself to sleep. Brown found the child about 20 minutes later, Harding said.
Harding has maintained he did nothing to hurt the baby, but investigators have said he was the only person who had access to the infant during critical time windows in the case. Additional evidence showed the boy suffered other injuries and witnesses statements indicate Harding had exhibited abusive behavior and a short temper with the baby.
Brown has agreed to cooperate with prosecutors in Harding's case, Thomas has said.