This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2011, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
A judge on Friday ordered a Kearns couple charged with abusing a disabled woman before her death to stand trial following testimony from neighbors who said they were long worried about her well-being.
Dale Robert Beckering, 52, and Sherrie Lynn Beckering, 50, each face one count of aggravated abuse of a vulnerable adult, a first-degree felony, in connection with the death of Christina Harms.
Third District Court Judge Lee A. Dever ordered the pair to stand trial after hearing testimony from neighbors, police and a medical examiner.
Sherrie Beckering's daughter, Cassandra Marie Shepard, also lived in the Kearns home and was Harms' legal guardian. While Shepard has been charged with murder in the case, prosecutors said Shepard and the Beckerings "took shifts" watching over Harms and all contributed to her demise in some way.
"Without that constant supervision, it would have never gotten to this point," prosecutor Chad Platt said.
Defense attorneys for the couple, however, said Dale and Sherrie Beckering lived in the basement of the home and rarely, if ever, saw Harms.
The prosecutors "haven't shown one thing [Sherrie Beckering] has done," said her attorney, David Berceau. "There's nothing other than my client lives in the house."
Harms, 22, had fetal alcohol syndrome that caused her to function at a preteen level, friends and family have said. Police arrested the Beckerings in March after Harms' death in their Kearns home was reported as an overdose.
Neighbor Amber Whitman testified she called police in late 2010 after seeing Harms standing in freezing temperatures on the balcony of the one-bedroom West Valley City apartment where Harms, Shepard, the Beckerings and three children lived for a time.
"I'd come home from work and she'd be looking at me like she needed help," Whitman said. "She'd be crying."
Whitman's husband, Nicholas Whitman, said he saw Harms eating out of a coffee can, "gagging down" some food.
Another neighbor, Lacey Bazinet, said Harms came to her door with a sleeping bag in July 2010 and claimed she was being abused. Harms showed Bazinet bruises on her wrists and chest, according to testimony. Bazinet said she tried to find Harms a place to stay at a shelter, but did not call police.
That night, Shepard reported Harms missing, according to a police report. Harms was taken to a hospital, but no other police action was deemed necessary, the report states.
Dale Beckering's defense attorney, Rudy Bautista, said the state has presented "the possibility of some sort of abuse, but nothing substantiated by police." Bautista also said Beckering worked 12-hour days and spent most of his free time in the home's basement, away from Harms.
Deputy Chief Medical Examiner Edward Leis testified Harms died as a result of physical abuse and neglect. Leis said he had to use scissors to cut through the bandages wrapped tightly around her hands. Underneath the bandages were a number of wounds.
In an interview with police, Shepard's young children said Harms scratched herself. But the children also told police that Harms lived in a closet.
Unified Police Detective Ben Pender said that closet had an alarm system and a knife stuck in the door to prevent Harms from getting out. Inside the closet was a piece of cardboard with remnants of feces and urine and some air fresheners, Pender said.
Also inside the closet was a bar to which police say Harms was strapped, crucifixion-style, and a sketch of Jesus Christ.
Leis said Harms was dehydrated and had potentially fatal levels of sedatives, likely from Benadryl or a similar drug, in her system.
Investigators found marks on Harms' ankles where plastic zip ties had been used to bind her. She had bruising on her thighs and head and a pepper seed in her lower eyelid. Bandaging material completely covered Harms' hands, preventing her from pulling the pepper seed from her eye, police said.
The 20-year-old Shepard faces charges of first-degree felony murder, first-degree felony aggravated abuse of a disabled adult and second-degree felony obstructing justice. She is scheduled to next appear in court in July.