Fresno woman given probation for death of 7-week-old foster child

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- A Fresno woman will not go to prison for the death of a seven-week-old baby. A judge sentenced Jovannee Reynolds to probation for the 2010 death of the infant in her foster care.

It's been a long and difficult case. Reynolds was a 23-year-old foster mother in 2010 when she took in Mikayla Tabin - a child born addicted to methamphetamine and abandoned by her birth mother.

Originally charged with murder, the charges were reduced to manslaughter because medical experts were unable to pinpoint a cause of death. Reynolds accepted a plea deal to avoid prison, but the judge came close to rejecting the deal Friday.

Reynolds was arrested on murder charges in late 2010. She's been out on bail as this case moved slowly through the courts. At a court hearing in 2011, this is how child abuse expert Dr. Phillip Heyden described the baby's injuries.

"The only other thing I could think of that could cause this is being ejected out of a motor vehicle at a very high rate of speed or falling at a height of over 10 feet," he testified.

However, based on other medical testimony, the prosecution later backed off - acknowledging her claim that the child was more likely to have been injured when Reynolds slapped her forcefully on the back when the child was choking. It was so hard, that it was determined the force was beyond what a reasonable person would use.

The charge was reduced to involuntary manslaughter and probation was recommended. But during the sentencing hearing, Judge James Opplinger wrestled with the reduced charge, noting Reynolds admitted to causing the death of a child.

He postponed sentencing for several hours as he considered the case. However, he ultimately agreed to the plea deal by the district attorney's office. Reynolds' attorney Curtis Sok thought the four-year probation sentence is fair.

"We are quite satisfied that the prosecution made a very fair offer and a fair agreement based on the evidentiary issues in this case," he said.

In addition, he noted Reynolds has no criminal or violent history. Jovannee Reynolds has since married, had a child and is expecting another. She and her family left the court without comment.
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