A Cleburne mother who seriously injured and tried to kill her 13-year-old son in 2016 by withholding food and nutrients from him was sentenced Friday to five years in prison and a recommended 10 years of probation.
Danita Tutt’s husband, Clint Tutt, who sat on the front row of the courtroom facing the jurors, hid his head in his hands as the verdict was read.
The jury deliberated over a period of nearly three days before returning the sentence and nearly four days previously as they assessed her guilt.
Tutt will spend five years in prison on the charge of injury to a child and 10 years’ probation for attempted murder. The probation term will run concurrently with the prison term.
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Tutt had faced five years to life in prison for injury to a child and two to 20 years in prison for attempted murder.
Prosecutors Dale Smith and Melinda Westmoreland had asked the jurors to protect Tutt’s son, Colby, by sending his mother to prison but did not recommend a specific sentence.
Smith said that after the jury spent nearly four days deliberating, prosecutors were confident that jurors would make the best decision about her sentence. The jury came to the conclusion that the only way to keep her children safe was prison for their mother, Smith said.
“When you try to kill your child. When you deprive him of food, of water. You let his weight get down to 50 pounds at 13 years old, you don’t deserve to walk amongst us. You don’t deserve to be Colby Tutt’s mother,” Westmoreland said.
Defense attorneys Terri Moore and Mike Ware had asked the jury to grant Tutt probation on each count, saying she has proven she is worthy of that chance since Child Protective Services and a Johnson County family judge allowed the boy to move back in with her in early 2017.
“For the last year and 10 months, the reunification of the family was the absolute right thing to do. We ask you to continue that reunification by giving Danita Tutt a probated sentence,“ Ware said.
The state’s feigned care for Tutt’s children was a ruse, Ware said.
Under Tutt’s current restrictions, medical decisions regarding Colby must be made by his maternal grandparents. Tutt is also not allowed to be alone with Colby and her younger son, but must be supervised by an adult.
Westmoreland pointed out to jurors that of the 25 witnesses who testified on behalf of the defense in the sentencing phase of the trial, all described Tutt as a good mother and said they disagreed with the jury’s guilty verdicts. She said it was up to the jury to do what Tutt’s family and friends and Child Protective Services failed to do.
“This is her community. Her community has spoken. They will continue to enable her. They will continue to not protect Colby,” Westmoreland said.
Moore said Tutt is a great mother who was convinced by doctors from Cook Children’s Medical Center and hospice program employees that her son was dying.
“She trusted the hospice people to guide her through it and they guided her with ‘death is coming, death is coming’ and all she wanted was for Colby to not be in pain,” Moore said.
Moore said neither Tutt nor her sons would benefit from Tutt being sent to prison and that the judge could impose probation conditions to ensure that Colby is safe.
Smith said if Tutt were given 10 years of probation, she will spend less time meeting with her probation officer than the jury spent with her in their first week of her five-week trial.
He said Tutt was addicted to the drama and questioned where all her supporters were when Tutt was trying to kill her son in April and May of 2016.
“It wasn’t about the truth. It was about protecting her,” Smith said. “It wasn’t about Colby. It was about protecting her.”
Tutt was and perhaps still is in disbelief regarding her jail sentence and the verdict that preceded it, according to her attorneys.
“She’s devastated,” Moore said. “There’s no doubt about it. She’s heartbroken. She’s flat on her face right now. She’s not somebody who has ever given much thought to spending time at the courthouse. Nobody knows the stress of being on trial until it happens to them. She was pretty naive I think about the whole process and optimistic in believing in her own innocence. So this has got her doubting everything. “
The medical professionals who cared for Tutt’s son should be forced to accept blame for what has happened, Moore said.
“I think these doctors that diagnosed him (Colby) as terminally ill have tortured this family and I think they ought to have to write Colby Tutt and his parents a big check,” Moore said. “Yes, I think that Connie Koehler, the fly-by-night pediatric hospice nurse, that absolutely had her make funeral arrangements, ought to have to write Colby Tutt and the parents a big, fat check. I think that they’re the people who shattered Danita Tutt and had her convinced that her son was indeed dying.”