A Baton Rouge judge is standing by the 40-year prison term he gave a St. Gabriel woman convicted of abusing her then-20-month-old stepson, including leaving the distinctive burn mark from a fork on his leg and nearly starving him to death in 2009.
After Charlotte Staggs was swiftly convicted of second-degree cruelty to a juvenile and sentenced in 2012, her attorney filed a motion in 2013 asking state District Judge Mike Erwin to reconsider the penalty and put her on probation and five years of home incarceration.
Stephen Sterling, who represents Staggs, argued 40 years in prison was an excessive sentence for a “one-time isolated event” and a woman — now 28 — with no prior criminal history.
Afterward, the judge denied Charlotte Staggs’ motion.
“At the time of sentencing, the Court considered all relevant mitigating and aggravating circumstances surrounding the charge,” Erwin wrote in his denial filed into the court record last week. “The sentence imposed by this Court falls within the statutory guidelines recommended for the charge.
“The defendant makes no allegations of fact, which would warrant alteration of the sentence in any way,” he added. “The Court sees no reason to modify the defendant’s sentence at this time.”
The state 1st Circuit Court of Appeal affirmed Charlotte Staggs’ conviction and sentence Nov. 1, 2013 — four days before her motion for reconsideration was filed at the 19th Judicial District Court. The appellate court noted then that it did not consider her excessiveness claim because the motion had not been filed and acted on by Erwin.
But the 1st Circuit said Charlotte Staggs would be able to appeal any adverse ruling on the motion if it was filed timely, which it was.
Sterling could not be reached for comment Tuesday.
It took an East Baton Rouge Parish jury just 15 minutes to find Charlotte Staggs guilty in October 2012. When Erwin sentenced her the next month, he called her “sinister and despicable.”
Her stepson, now 7, was rushed to a Baton Rouge hospital in August 2009 after ingesting fingernail polish remover. Medical personnel testified at the trials of Steven and Charlotte Staggs that the child was severely dehydrated and malnourished and had scrapes, bruises and sores on his emaciated body, in addition to the impression of the tines of a fork burned onto his leg. He weighed 15 pounds.
Charlotte Staggs, who claimed to be bipolar, testified at her trial that she never intentionally hurt her stepson and denied giving special treatment to her two biological children. She said the boy burned himself with a fork when she left a bowl of hot noodles unattended on a table.
Steven Staggs testified at his trial that he totally trusted Charlotte Staggs to care for his son and her children while he was at work. He said he knew nothing about the fork burn or many of the other marks on his son’s body.
The boy is now living with his maternal grandmother and her husband, who adopted him.