A 4th District jury deliberated more than 11 hours last week before returning guilty verdicts on two counts of child abuse against a 36-year-old Lehi woman.
Janet Ward was convicted of one count of second-degree felony child abuse and one count of class A misdemeanor child abuse after a four-day jury trial before 4th District Judge Lynn W. Davis.Ward, a former teacher at Lehi Elementary School, allegedly hit her two adopted children, ages 11 and 8, with her hand, a belt and a plastic baseball bat, witnesses testified during the trial. Both children, along with Ward's ex-husband, who now has custody of the children, testified of Ward's abusive behavior.
The jury of six women and two men deliberated for nearly six hours Friday evening, breaking just before midnight. The jury returned Saturday morning and reached a verdict in the late afternoon. Ward is scheduled to be sentenced July 23.
Defense attorney Sidney Unrau built his case on the testimony of Ward and fellow schoolteachers and neighbors who knew her. She was characterized as "an extremely good teacher" and "an upstanding citizen."
Utah County Deputy Attorney Sherry Ragan, however, said Ward's abusive behavior was particularly upsetting because she was a schoolteacher for 14 years. Besides the two children and Ward's ex-husband, prosecution witnesses included an emergency room physician from American Fork Hospital who treated Ward's 11-year-old adopted son in September 1995.
The doctor testified he treated the boy for a black eye, a gash to the head and various other injuries, which Ward told him had been sustained in a bicycle accident. After Ward and the boy left, however, the physician, Dean Shelton, realized the wounds couldn't have been from a bike accident and called Ward on the phone.
Detective Kathy Stewart of the Lehi Police Department was called in to investigate the incident, and the two children were taken out of Ward's custody by the Division of Family Services. The kids were placed with their adoptive father, who divorced Ward in 1993 and now lives in Orem.
Ward's ex-husband testified both children told him of incidents in which Ward hit and kicked them, pulled hair and forced them to submit to unusual punishments for being disobedient.
Ward was charged with two second-degree felony child abuse counts, each of which carried a penalty of up to 15 years in the Utah State Prison. The jury, however, returned the lesser class A misdemeanor conviction on the second count.
During the trial, an Alpine School District official testified Ward was placed on paid administrative leave in November after the district learned of the child abuse charges.