More than a dozen family members, friends and neighbors took the stand Monday to plead with the jury to give probation to a Cleburne mother convicted of seriously injuring and trying to kill her oldest son.
“Danita would give her life for her children. She has since the day they were born,” Diana Thetford, Tutt’s mother, told jurors.
Friday, a jury found Danita Thetford Tutt, 42, guilty of causing her son, Colby, serious bodily injury and of attempted murder for withholding food and nutrients from the child. They found her not guilty on two other counts of injury to a child related to two surgeries the boy had undergone.
Tutt faces five years to life in prison on the injury to a child conviction and two to 20 years in prison on the attempted murder conviction.
She is also eligible for probation on each count.
Prosecutors Dale Smith and Melinda Westmoreland called no witnesses Monday.
But witness after witness who took the stand Monday on behalf of the defense testified they were surprised or shocked that the jury found Tutt guilty on two counts in the case and respectfully disagree with the verdicts. They testified that Danita is a loving and caring mother who should be sentenced to probation, not time in prison, for both her sake and that of her boys.
“They’re so scared without her,” testified Karen Tutt, Tutt’s mother-in-law, regarding her grandsons. “... She’s their advocate and she’s their rock and she’s everything to them.”
Bill Tutt said his daughter-in-law and son have followed all the rules imposed by Child Protective Services — including that she must be supervised by her husband or another adult when with her two sons. He said he knows his daughter-in-law will continue to follow any rules that are made if she is placed on probation.
“I’ve never known Danita to be anything but a loving, caring, nurturing, dedicated mother,” Bill Tutt said. “It would be devastating if she were not allowed to be with her family, not only to take care of Colby’s special needs but Colby went to school today and if he wasn’t bullied today, he’ll be bullied tomorrow. Danita is his No. 1 advocate.”
Thetford, 73, testified that when Colby lived with her and her husband, Mark, CPS kept extremely close watch over her family.
She said she and her husband were “horrified” to take Colby to the doctor or hospital and that she even made a video to prove that she and her husband were trying to get Colby to eat.
“We were horrified we wouldn’t get our grandson back because they didn’t want us to have Colby to start with,” Thetford testified.
In early 2017, Thetford said CPS and a Johnson County family judge agreed Colby could be reunited with Danita as long as she was supervised.
“He was thrilled to be back with his mother,” Thetford said. “He told me, ‘Mimi, I didn’t think I’d ever see mommy again.’ He was happy. He was joyous and he quit being sad,” she testified.
Thetford testified because of the expense of hiring someone to supervise her daughter, she often supervises herself. She and her husband are also the ones designated to attend all of the boy’s doctor appointments and make medical decisions for the boy.
Defense attorney Mike Ware, who along with Terri Moore is representing Tutt, showed jurors dozens of photographs of Colby in the almost two years since he’s been reunited with his mother. In them, Colby is seen smiling in the pictures, sometimes alongside his mom, dad, brother and other family members. Pictures included at his 16th birthday party last month, heading to church camp, and in his baseball uniform for a special needs team he plays on.
Thetford said while her grandson is thriving, he still has continuing medical problems.
“He has problems. He will the rest of his life,” Thetford said.
Under cross-examination by Smith, Thetford acknowledged she never believed her daughter posed a risk to Colby — even during the time for which she now stands convicted of causing serious bodily injury to the boy and trying to kill him.
Westmoreland also pointed out during cross-examination of Karen Tutt, who works in the field of investigating child abuse, that victims of child abuse often still love their abusive parent.
The punishment phase of the trial will resume Tuesday afternoon with defense attorneys planning to call more than a dozen more witnesses.