Billings woman appeals conviction in child abuse case

2012-12-28T13:55:00Z 2012-12-29T11:18:03Z Billings woman appeals conviction in child abuse caseBy GREG TUTTLE gtuttle@billingsgazette.com The Billings Gazette

A Billings woman serving a 15-year prison sentence for abusing an 8-month-old boy she was baby-sitting has appealed her conviction to the Montana Supreme Court.

An attorney for Nevada Ugalde argues in the appeal filed recently that the 23-year-old woman convicted at trial in 2010 of aggravated assault did not receive a fair trial on numerous grounds, including misconduct by the prosecution and poor representation by her court-appointed defense lawyer.

Ugalde was charged for injuries suffered by Isaiah Napier on June 11, 2008. Prosecutors said Ugalde, who was baby-sitting the boy, caused severe head injuries by shaking or slamming the child.

Ugalde denied the charge and claimed the child suffered the injuries when he fell out of a crib.

The case went to trial before District Judge Susan Watters in April 2010. After a week of testimony and about six hours of deliberation, the jury convicted Ugalde.

Ugalde's sentencing was delayed for about one year while Watters considered her request for a new trial. After denying the request, Watters sentenced Ugalde to serve 20 years in prison, with five years suspended, and pay about $1.4 million in restitution.

The restitution was ordered to pay for Napier's medical needs. Prosecutors said the child suffered permanent and disabling injuries as a result of the abuse.

In the appeal, an attorney for Ugalde said the woman's conviction should be overturned because of misconduct by the prosecution. The attorney, Gregory Birdsong of Missoula, said that if the conviction is not tossed out, Ugalde should be granted a new trial.

Birdsong states that former Yellowstone County Attorney  Dennis Paxinos committed misconduct when he spoke about the case before trial with a state medical examiner who had been consulted by Ugalde's defense attorney.

"It gave the prosecution an unfair advantage and denied the defendant a fair trial," Birdsong states in the appeal. "It led to a manifest miscarriage of justice, raising serious questions about the fundamental fairness of the trial and compromising the integrity of the judicial process."

Other errors that should result in a new trial for Ugalde include the failure of the defense lawyer at trial to stipulate that Napier suffered a serious injury. As a result, the prosecution was allowed to call 10 witnesses at trial to testify about the nature of the boy's injuries.

The jury's verdict "may have been based on emotion" and not the evidence, Birdsong states.

The appeal also states that a prosecutor was allowed to make an improper closing statement, and Ugalde's court-appointed attorney was unable to provide an effective defense because she was required by the state Office of the Public Defender to get prior approval for any expenditure more than $200.               

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(10) Comments

  1. yearight
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    yearight - December 30, 2012 10:29 am
    FYI Dr.The 'Mommy" did not have a boyfriend. She had a husband. Who was also the boys father. And if you had read the other stories in the Gazette about this case.You would know that Nevada was convicted with evidence provided by more than one person.
  2. mercy t
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    mercy t - December 29, 2012 2:27 pm
    There are many shades of grey, but the fact is a child's life was ruined. When children are involved, there is FAR less grey area. Like others said, how does an 8 month on fall out of a crib? Both my boys were walking at that age and they never started crawling out of the crib until well over 18 months. A fall out of a crib is hardly going to damage a child irreparably. The medical examiner said that it's nearly impossible to sustain that sort of permanent damage with out aggravated assault. But I guess we should all take the word of nameless people on the Internet over that of a highly trained professional. And what the heck is so wrong with talking to a witness? If you knew defense lawyers you would know it's their job to grasp at straws to get their clients off.
  3. Great Falls Girl
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    Great Falls Girl - December 29, 2012 12:38 pm
    You said it well, Dr. Livingston. All these comments are sad; the people who most post on these issue have their minds made up and refuse to see the shades of gray in life. People are wrongly incarcerated all the time. A fair trial is what she deserves, just like anyone else in our country who may or may not be guilty of what they are accused of.
  4. 2speedy
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    2speedy - December 29, 2012 12:14 pm
    Dr Livingston. The billings women caused permanent damage to an innocent child! I don't care about the misconduct of someone else. She committed a crime and deserves to be in prison!
  5. Dr Livingston
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    Dr Livingston - December 29, 2012 9:21 am
    None of us knows all the facts in this case. What we do know is this: according to the article, the prosecution performed misconduct by "when he spoke about the case the the state medical examiner before the trial". Anyone who reads the Gazette understands that this same man himself performed misconduct 7 years before he was exposed for performing unethical practices inside his own office, after hours. Just based on these 2 facts alone should be enough cause for appeal. It is the right of every American to have a fair and just trial BEFORE being convicted of a crime. How do we know that it wasn't mommy or her boyfriend that created the injuries to the child? If she had bad representation, her whole case could be a tragic one involving 2 tragedies. The little one, and the wrong person behind bars. It would not be the first time that happened. Cost should NOT be a factor in this as well.
  6. a mom forever
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    a mom forever - December 28, 2012 9:21 pm
    Oh dear, please don't tell us you helped the spouse out by taking them to slide at at a city park!!!
  7. lld
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    lld - December 28, 2012 9:10 pm
    Some people are not willing to own their stuff. Classic case here. Take the sentencing gift you were given, go away, and STAY AWAY FROM CHILDREN!
  8. Laughter
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    Laughter - December 28, 2012 3:31 pm
    "I could be wrong but, falling out of a crib sounds more than unlikely." I tend to agree Ruby. We had our own kids and the spouse ran a daycare for many years plus we are from large families, both immediate and extended, and not one time did a child fall out of a crib and I'm talking the old fashioned kind of cribs which didn't have any of the present day so-called safety features on them.
  9. KingRichard
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    KingRichard - December 28, 2012 3:25 pm
    If walkaway Sue gave her 20 years then I gotta believe the evidence was pretty condemning!
  10. ruby
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    ruby - December 28, 2012 2:12 pm
    This is an honest question. As a mother of three children I have never had a child fall out of a crib. I have never had one try to climb out before the age of 15 months. How does an 8 month old fall out of a crib? To my knowledge most 8 month olds don't have the body strength to pull up to climb over. That is provided the crib is lowered appropriately. I could be wrong but, falling out of a crib sounds more than unlikely.

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