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Idaho grandmother gets 20-year prison sentence after death of 8-year-old girl

Idaho

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EMMETT (Idaho Statesman) — An Emmett grandmother who didn’t seek medical attention for her granddaughter — resulting in the 8-year-old’s death — was sentenced to 20 years in prison Friday.

Connie Ann Smith, 54, pleaded guilty to felony injury to a child and felony failure to notify authorities of a death, according to online court records, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years fixed.

After a two-hour emotional sentencing hearing, 3rd District Judge Gene Petty sentenced Smith to five years fixed and 15 years indeterminate. She will receive credit for time served, as she spent 13 months in the Gem County Jail. Smith could be eligible for parole by 2026.

“All you had to do was love us and take care of us,” Taryn’s brother, Tristan Conner Sexton, said Friday speaking towards Smith during the sentencing hearing. “What was so wrong with us that you mistreated us and abused us? That, I’ll never understand.”

The details of what happened to Taryn were unclear until Friday.

In April 2021, the family of Taryn was “forever changed” after the Gem County authorities reported her and her two older siblings missing, family member Daryl Hall Sexton testified Friday. But 8-year-old Taryn wasn’t missing — she was dead.

Taryn’s 15-year-old sister Taylor Summers died two months after Taryn in an accidental drowning in Twin Falls, the Emmett Messenger-Index reported. Taylor and Tristan ran away in 2020 but had frequent contact with family.

“You caused the death of Taryn,” family member Daryl said. “Taryn was malnourished, she was tormented and she lived in fear every day in your care. You took away her dignity. You never allowed her to flourish or develop into the beautiful girl she was.”

Three days after Taryn was reported missing, Idaho State Police Det. Sgt. Jason Horst opened the back door of a Lexus — parked outside Smith’s home — and found a black trash bag, he testified during an August hearing.

“I kind of got that feeling of what I’d find when I opened it,” Horst said. “I immediately thought that it was the body of Taryn Summers.”

The body was in fact Taryn’s, Gem County Sheriff investigator Lt. Jason McIntosh told the court in August.

Prior to sentencing Smith, Petty said that while Smith’s intentions might have been good, she failed.

“You were responsible for her, you were responsible to make sure that she was taken care of well — that she got the care that she needed,” Petty said “And you failed at that. You neglected to get Taryn the help that she clearly needed.” A restitution hearing is set for 9:30 a.m. June 3.

GEM COUNTY PROSECUTOR DETAILS SMITH’S ‘HORRIFIC CRIME’

In a roughly 30-minute argument, Gem County Prosecutor Erick Thomson detailed the days surrounding Taryn’s death.

“Judge, this is a horrific crime,” Thomson said.

Information surrounding Taryn’s cause of death had not been released previously. Thomson said a pathologist determined during Taryn’s autopsy that she was dehydrated, failed to thrive, had pneumonia and suffered blunt force trauma to her head. Children are diagnosed with failure to thrive when they are significantly underweight.

The autopsy could not determine an exact cause of death, Thomson said.

Some of the children under Smith’s care described her as a “hard parent,” Thomson said. He added Taryn was “isolated from the world” as she wasn’t attending school and hadn’t seen a doctor for two years.

On the day of Taryn’s death, she was seen by a preschool teacher in Emmett. The teacher testified during that August hearing that Taryn was asleep in the back of the car. The teacher said Smith had told the other kids to be “very quiet” as Taryn was sleeping.

“I think it’s safe to say Taryn was incredibly sick in the back of that car and dying at the time,” Thomson said.

When Smith found Taryn dead in her bedroom hours later, Thomson said she “panicked.” According to Thomson, Smith then stuffed Taryn’s body into a trash bag and put her in the vehicle. Smith then proceeded to call the cops and report Taryn as a runaway.

“Judge, I’m going to ask you today that you send Connie Smith to prison for 20 years,” Thomson said. “I also asked you give her the chance for parole after five (years). That chance of mercy, humanity, is something she didn’t give Taryn.”

TEXT MESSAGES DETAIL TARYN’S DECLINE BEFORE DEATH

Smith’s son David Summers was watching over Taryn on April 9 — just a few days before Taryn died, Thomson said during the hearing.

David Summers texted Smith while he was watching her to ask if he could give Taryn some Pepto Bismol as she wasn’t feeling well. Smith responded, “No, on my way,” said Thomson, who read a transcript of the text messages in court Friday.

“What you’re doing isn’t helping Mom. She’s getting worse,” Summers texted Smith back, 45 minutes later. “I know you feel like she’s just being a sh–. But either you got to do things drastically different … it has to change if it’s not too late.”

“Anyone other than you, I’d be making a call, Mom,” David Summers continued. “Like, she’s in a condition that if someone else saw her and called I’d be f—ed too, and it’s not good for you either. … What you are all doing is killing both of you.”

In a statement Friday, Smith said that she is not the monster that she was made out to be, but that she will regret her actions for the rest of her life.

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