Fault Lines
16 January 2019
five years daycare

Five Years for a Child’s Life

March 17, 2017 (Fault Lines) — Cecily Roberts owned a daycare. Today, she was sentenced to five years in prison after a little boy who went there died:

A former Sunrise day care owner was sentenced Thursday to five years in state prison, with credit for 331 days already served.

Cecily Roberts pleaded no contest to aggravated manslaughter of a child as part of a plea deal in the death of 4-year-old Jordan Coleman.

Roberts had already been in custody for 331 days when she pleaded guilty. That’s unusual. Most people in custody tend to plead a bit faster than those who make bond. It could have taken a while because she was convinced of her own innocence, and it just took a little while for her to appreciate the risk of trial and plead. She could be the most difficult defendant ever. Or she could just be a normal person making a tough decision. That Roberts held out so long before pleading suggests her case is a little more complicated than most.

The fact she pled no contest rather than guilty suggests that whatever made things take so long probably had to do with her unwillingness to admit guilt. A no contest plea has basically the exact same effect as a guilty plea. Roberts will still go to prison. She will still do probation and community service. It’ll be on her record. It’ll probably enhance her sentence for future crimes, if there are any, just the same as a conviction following a plea of guilty would. The only real benefit to Roberts is that she doesn’t have to say she committed the crime. She just has to agree the prosecution can prove it.

In some jurisdictions, prosecutors don’t care about people pleading no contest. The ability to offer it is just another bargaining chip the prosecutor has, an essentially meaningless part of the agreement as a whole that makes defendants feel sort of like they’re getting some sort of concession from the other side. Everyone starts demanding it in those jurisdictions, which can be annoying, but it’s nice when someone either can’t or won’t admit guilt but is still practical about the situation.

On the other hand, in jurisdictions where prosecutors want the admission of guilt almost as much as they want the conviction, things are much tougher. Some defendants want a no contest plea even more because it isn’t easy to get. Other defendants are in a bad spot because they have to choose between lying about doing something they didn’t do and risking harsh consequences at trial. It’s unclear where Roberts would fall in all of this.

It’s unsurprising that Roberts was in custody given the circumstances of her arrest:

The former co-owner of the day care, Camille Gordon, was arrested on the same charge as Roberts after they were both found by authorities in New York.

Fleeing the state is about the best way possible to ensure you remain in custody while your case is pending. If Roberts happened to be out of town for some sort of pre-scheduled daycare owners’ convention on the day they wanted to arrest her, she’s awfully unlucky. Owning a daycare where a child died is bad enough. Being found by authorities in New York afterwards makes things look even worse.

Roberts’s conduct and no contest plea didn’t make the little victim’s mother happy at all:

Jordan’s mother spoke in court Thursday, disgusted about the defendants’ response to her son’s death.

“We’re the victims,” Fantasia Goldson said. “We didn’t get no sorry. We didn’t get, ‘Oh my God, we understand your pain that you’re going through.'”

It’s impossible to dispute that Goldson is a victim. She suffered an unthinkable loss that doesn’t seem to have been in any way her fault. Roberts’s plea of no contest, though, almost necessarily means Goldson isn’t going to be getting a sorry from Roberts. Sure, Roberts could have said she understood Goldson’s pain while still maintaining she didn’t commit the crime, but she doesn’t have to. There’s probably no benefit to her doing that.

The sentence was just as bad for Goldson:

Goldson was not satisfied with the defendants’ sentences.

“That’s not justice for a 4-year-old that passed away,” she said. “It’s not like you’re doing 10 or 15 years. You still will have time to live your life.”

For people involved in the justice system, victims’ general dissatisfaction with the courts’ inability to extract cathartic apologies from defendants gets old. It isn’t something the system does. What the system is better at, however, is giving people long sentences. Considering that a child died, a five-year sentence doesn’t seem like much. The circumstances are both aggravating and mitigating:

Police said Jordan was found unconscious Aug. 1, 2012, in the back of an SUV.

Authorities said Jordan had been in the SUV for more than two hours while it was parked at an apartment complex in Tamarac.

He was taken to a hospital, where he died.

Police said Roberts owned 3C’s Daycare in Sunrise at the time and told her employees to take Jordan and seven other children to the Tamarac apartment complex.

It’s unclear why Roberts would have employees drive kids to an apartment only to leave one in the car. It’s important, however, that Roberts wasn’t the one who left the little boy in the car. If she’d even told the employee to do it, that would likely be a fact prominently cited in any article.

Given that the other owner and an employee, one of whom presumably actually left the boy in the car, got only probation and community service, it seems that Roberts just ran a sketchy business and that an employee of hers made an enormous mistake. That Roberts’s daycare wasn’t exactly a well run operation is unsurprising given her other activities:

Roberts was recently convicted for her involvement in illegally receiving payments from the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

She was sentenced last May to 33 months in prison, plus several more years of supervised release.

Roberts is probably not a super awesome person. She didn’t intentionally kill Jordan, though. From her perspective, even if she is a hustler taking money she isn’t due from the government and having her poorly trained and supervised daycare staff take the kids weird places for some unknown reason, five years is a lot of time. The prosecution may not have had the easiest case from a liability standpoint. Things likely would’ve been much worse for Roberts if they had a better case.

Roberts might not have gotten ten or fifteen like Goldson wanted, but five is better than nothing. It’s not a bad sentence for someone who created a situation that ended in tragedy.

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