HaLee Miller is a budding artist and sharpshooter who loves to go fishing with her family.
But she has lingering health problems that keep her from feeling like a typical 12-year-old. Her frequent headaches and delayed cognitive development are holding her back, her family says, and seem to stem from abuse she suffered as a baby at a day care center.
“It's just something we have to live with because of what that horrible person did,” said her father, Steven Miller.
As of Tuesday, Miller said, their family can take some comfort in knowing the woman who ran the in-home day care in Murray is serving time for her actions more than a decade ago.
A judge ordered Kami Kay Tollefson to serve two years in jail — the maximum sentence possible — after she pleaded guilty in March to child abuse charges. Third District Judge Randall Skanchy noted Tollefson's "grave offenses" continued over a period of years.
Tollefson pleaded guilty in March to two counts of negligent child abuse, a class A misdemeanor, in HaLee's case and that of another child seriously injured in her care.
The cases dragged on for more than a decade after Skanchy rejected a previous plea agreement that would have required no jail time and no admission of guilt. A subsequent trial ended with Tollefson being acquitted of abuse of a third child. The jury was unable to reach a verdict on abuse allegations in two other cases that she ultimately pleaded guilty to last month.
Tollefson admitted in both cases that she “negligently allowed another to seriously injure the child,” court records say.
On Tuesday, defense attorney Deborah Kreeck Mendez argued that an ankle monitor and community service would be a sufficient penalty, saying her client was a stressed and overwhelmed single mother at the time the kids in her care were rushed to the hospital.
The boy, Isaak Crandall, was hit so hard by something while at the day care in 2008 that his pancreas split and he need emergency surgery, court documents say.
HaLee suffered head trauma in Tollefson's home in 2010, causing her brain to bleed and leaving her with detached retinas. Doctors concluded she had been violently shaken by someone of adult strength, causing bleeding in her brain.
Tollefson “carries a lot of guilt,” Mendez said, describing her client today as active in her church and supported by family. “She carries a burden with this.”
Like Miller, David Crandall urged the judge to impose the heftiest sentence possible, noting that his son Isaak has had multiple surgeries to recover from his injuries and it's not clear when he'll stop having health problems.
“This whole thing has just made us sick,” Crandall said.
Tollefson said she understands the families’ frustrations and felt terrible when she learned the children were in the hospital. She noted she's given money to the Crandall family for what happened.
“I just don't know what to say or do to make them feel better,” she said as she sat surrounded by supporters during the sentencing hearing held over videoconference. “I just really want to put this behind everybody to be able to heal and move forward. And that's why I decided to take the plea instead of going forward with another trial.”