Saying he was disturbed by a Fort Worth mother’s indifference immediately after her 10-month-old son’s death — and the lies and excuses she gave in the aftermath — a judge sentenced the woman to 40 years in prison Friday.
Shakira Bickerstaff had pleaded guilty Thursday to serious bodily injury of her son, Lamont, who died August 2014 after being found unresponsive on the couch in deplorable living conditions.
She is appealing her sentence, handed down by State District Judge Scott Wisch following a day-and-a-half hearing.
Bickerstaff, 24, had initially denied knowing what had caused her son’s death, suggesting he may have had died from injuries suffered from rolling off her bed onto his head.
But an autopsy of Lamont revealed a multitude of external and internal injuries, both old and new. His death was eventually ruled a homicide caused by “battered infant syndrome.”
In a subsequent interview in October 2015, Bickerstaff continued to deny hurting her son, blaming some of his injuries on Lamont himself, her toddler daughter, her boyfriend, and even casting suspicion on her boyfriend’s parents.
In that same interview, however, she eventually admitted that she believed she had caused the boy’s death by shaking Lamont while “playing” and unintentionally striking his head on a nearby coffee table.
In asking for compassion and mercy from the judge, Christy Jack, who defended Bickerstaff along with attorney Tim Moore, argued that the woman’s own childhood left her at a disadvantage in rearing her own children.
‘Product of a perfect storm’
As a toddler growing up in Ohio, Bickerstaff had been abandoned and neglected by her own mother, a drug abuser who had given up custody of Bickerstaff and later Bickerstaff’s brother to the girl’s grandmother. Bickerstaff never knew whom her father was, and was later sexually abused as a young teen by a man in his 30s with whom she’d become involved, Jack said.
Jack said after moving to Texas, Bickerstaff dropped out of high school after becoming pregnant with her daughter.
When she later became pregnant with Lamont, an overwhelmed Bickerstaff wanted to give the boy up for adoption but couldn’t because of financial restraints and on the advice of her boyfriend and her grandmother, Jack said.
Jack had also pointed out during her cross examination of Detective W.S. Adams, the lead investigator in the case, that while Bickerstaff has admitted to causing some of Lamont’s injuries, there were several other injuries where it remains unknown how Lamont received them.
“While it would be really simple to lay them all at her feet, you cannot do that, can you?” Jack asked Adams, the crimes against children detective.
“Correct,” Adams replied.
Jack told the judge Lamont’s extensive injuries — which a deputy medical examiner had testified would have been inflicted on, at minimum, three separate occasions — could have been attributed to both Bickerstaff and her boyfriend.
During testimony, the judge had learned that the boyfriend had previously been hospitalized for depression and had once admitted to hitting Bickerstaff in a moment of frustration.
“This was the product of a perfect storm — two young parents ill-equipped to handle a child,” Jack said.
‘She did want this child’
Lisa Callaghan, who prosecuted the case along with R. Dale Smith, had asked the judge to sentence Bickerstaff to life in prison.
In her audio recorded statement to police, Bickerstaff was “cold, unemotional” and “unaffected” by her son’s death, Callaghan said.
“If she was a pond, this child’s life did not even make a ripple,” Callaghan told the judge. “It was a matter of no concern to her.”
She said the plethora of injuries discovered during the boy’s autopsy proved how much the mother didn’t want her son.
“He was absolutely coated in signs of her lack of regard and hostility toward him,” Callaghan said. “It was hostility. She did not want this child. She never wanted this child.”
She scoffed at suggestions that Bickerstaff’s bad upbringing could have been a reason behind such behavior, pointing out that the woman’s older daughter showed no signs of abuse.
“What this defendant gave her child was pain and destruction death,” Callaghan said.
In handing down his sentence, Wisch said he was disturbed that Bickerstaff seemed so “indifferent” about her son’s death when initially talking to a detective on the night of Lamont’s death.
He said her upbringing would carry more weight with him if Lamont had been an only child, but pointed out that Bickerstaff had a toddler daughter who showed no signs of abuse.
He said he was also concerned by Bickerstaff’s lies from the night of Lamont’s death and in later interviews with the investigator.
“The lies don’t concern me because a panicked kid says, ‘I don’t know. I don’t know,’ Wisch told Bickerstaff. “The lies concern me when you switch to, I don’t know but here’s an explanation that might get other people, even innocent people, in trouble if believed. It’s one thing to try to run and hide. It’s another thing to put the posse on someone else’s trail who’s done nothing wrong.”