Billings woman guilty of abusing toddler

2013-02-14T16:45:00Z 2013-02-28T16:26:30Z Billings woman guilty of abusing toddlerBy GREG TUTTLE gtuttle@billingsgazette.com The Billings Gazette

A District Court jury has found a Billings woman guilty of beating and biting her 2-year-old stepson.

The jury reached a verdict against Tonya Clemmer late Wednesday after a three-day trial before Judge Mary Jane Knisely.

Clemmer, 32, was found guilty of two counts of felony assault on a minor. The charge carries a maximum prison sentence of five years. Clemmer, who remains free on a posted $20,000 bond, will be sentenced in April.

The charges were filed in 2011 after state social workers went to a residence in the Heights in February to investigate a report of child abuse.

The social workers removed two brothers, ages 2 and 3, from the house after finding the younger child with extensive bruising and a serious bite mark on his hand.

Clemmer, who was charged under her maiden name of Meredith, was living with the children's father, Derrick Clemmer. The couple was married four months after the children were removed and placed in the full-time custody of their mother. 

At the trial, Deputy County Attorney Juli Pierce said Clemmer caused extensive bruising to the child's face by repeatedly hitting or slapping him. A physician who examined the boy, Dr. Gordon Collett, told the jury the bruising was "non-accidental trauma" caused by child abuse.

The boy also had marks on his buttocks and thigh, and a severe bite mark on his right hand.

Child Protection specialist Pamela Weischedel and Billings Police Det. Michael Protain also testified at the trial. They said Clemmer gave several different accounts of how the child was bruised.    

Clemmer testified at her trial, admitting to the jury that she bit the child as punishment when he bit her on the thigh.

"The way I grew up is old-school: You bite somebody, you get bit back," she said.

Since the incident, Clemmer said, she has taken parenting classes and now understands that biting a child is not appropriate.

"It was a mistake," she said. "I regret it now."

But Clemmer denied causing the extensive bruising on the left side of the child's face. She said the night before the social workers arrived, the boy slipped in the bathtub and hit the side of his face.

The marks on the boy's buttocks were not bruising but diaper rash, she said.

"I would never abuse a child," Clemmer said during questioning by her attorney, Lisa Bazant.

Forensic pathologist Dr. Thomas Bennett and Derrick Clemmer testified for the defense.

Derrick Clemmer said his wife was "awesome with my boys," and he did not believe she abused them. He told the jury he was on the phone with Clemmer as she was bathing his youngest son when he heard him fall.

"She wouldn't be around my children for a second if I had any inkling that she had hurt them," he said.

Bennett told the jury that the bite mark on the boy's hand was a clear sign of child abuse. But he disputed the testimony of Collett, saying he did not believe the large bruise on the boy's face was caused by a slap or hit.

Bennett said the bruising was more likely caused by a fall onto a hard, smooth surface. He agreed that it was possible the facial bruising was caused by a slip in the tub as Clemmer described.

He also said the sores on the child's buttocks appeared to be a skin rash and not bruising.

On cross-examination by Pierce, Bennett agreed that investigators had reason to be concerned about how the injuries they found on the child and Clemmer's explanations for how they occurred.

"Whenever I hear multiple stories, it's a concern," he said.    

Copyright 2014 The Billings Gazette. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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