Plea deal nixed, judge levels max
By JESSIE STENSLAND
Whidbey News Times Assistant editor
September 19, 2008 · Updated 1:51 PM
Judge Vickie Churchill handed out an unusual sentence to a man convicted of mistreating a toddler a couple of years ago.
In Island County Superior Court Monday, Churchill declined to follow a sentence recommended by both the prosecutor and defense attorney as part of a plea bargain. Instead, she gave him the maximum.
Gilbert Pena III, a former Oak Harbor man, pleaded guilty to criminal mistreatment in the second degree, which is defined as acting recklessly in not tending to a child’s injuries.
To attend court, Pena was transported from McNeil Island Corrections Center in Steilacoom. He is currently serving a term of 10 years to life for raping a child in Oak Harbor.
The current case, which actually occurred before the rape case, happened at a Clinton home in January of 2006. Pena was living with his girlfriend and her 23-month-old daughter.
Former Detective Sue Quandt, with the Island County Sheriff’s Office, started investigating the case after the little girl was admitted to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle with a skull fracture and a subdural hematoma. Also, doctors found evidence of a previous possible brain bleed.
Because the injury appeared suspicious, a child abuse expert at the hospital assessed the case. She concluded that the brain hemorrhage was “consistent with either a contact injury or a shaking injury” and “extremely highly concerning” for possible child abuse, Quandt wrote.
The report indicates that Pena was alone with the child when she suffered the injury — and possibly the previous injury — though neither he nor the girl’s mother could give an explanation as to how it happened.
In court, Island County Chief Criminal Prosecutor Colleen Kenimond explained that Pena agreed to plead guilty if the recommended sentence was a year and five months, but that it run concurrent with Pena’s sentence in the child rape case.
In other words, the recommended sentence wouldn’t mean any additional time in prison for Pena since it would take place at the same time as the sentence in the rape case.
Kenimore said she agreed to the plea bargain because of the lack of clear evidence.
“All the parties agreed that this would have been a very difficult case to try,” she said, adding that the conviction could make it harder for Pena to convince an indeterminate sentencing board to let him out of prison after he serves the minimum 10 years.
Judges usually follow sentence recommendations presented by the attorneys. But not this time.
Churchill decided to sentence Pena to the maximum sentence and that it run consecutive — instead of concurrent — to the rape sentence. That means he’ll have to serve an additional 17 months after he’s finished serving time in the child rape case.Contact Whidbey News Times Assistant editor Jessie Stensland at email@example.com or 360.675.6611 ext. 5056.