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Tonya Clemmer

Tonya Clemmer sits during her trial in February on charges that she beat and bit her 3-year-old stepson. She admitted to biting the child but said the bruising was caused by a fall in the bathtub. A jury found Clemmer guilty on both counts.

A Billings woman convicted at trial of beating and biting her 3-year-old stepson was sentenced Thursday in District Court.

Tonya Lynn Clemmer, 32, was ordered to serve a five-year suspended sentence for felony assault on a minor related to the extensive bruising the boy suffered in February 2011.

Judge Mary Jane Knisely imposed a concurrent three-year deferred sentence for a second count of felony assault on a minor child for a bite wound he suffered on his hand.

Knisely said she imposed the longer suspended sentence for the bruising because she did not believe Clemmer's testimony at trial that the boy slipped in the bathtub.

Clemmer admitted at trial, and again Thursday, that she bit the child's hand to discipline him for biting her. 

Knisely said she believes Clemmer has improved her parenting skills by completing two parenting classes since the incident, but the sentences were warranted because of the severity of the offenses.

Knisely also said Clemmer would have to register as a violent offender for 10 years, and the judge ordered her to pay $600 in restitution for the prosecution's cost of having a dentist testify at her trial.

Deputy County Attorney Juli Pierce had argued for a sentence of five years in state custody, with two years suspended. 

Pierce said Clemmer has failed to take full responsibility for her actions, which caused her stepchildren to suffer severe and lasting trauma.

Defense attorney Lisa Bazant asked the judge to impose a deferred sentence. Clemmer has no prior criminal history, Bazant said, and is not a danger to the community.

Clemmer told the judge she has taken steps to improve herself since the incident and does not believe she is a violent person. She bit the child, she said, because that was how she was taught as a child.

Clemmer was charged after social workers were called to a Heights residence in February 2011 and reported that they found the 3-year-old boy with extensive bruises on his face and body and a bite wound to his hand that broke the skin.

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The boy and his older brother were removed from the home and eventually returned to the care of their mother, who had given temporary custody of the boys to her ex-husband.

A jury convicted Clemmer of the charges at the end of a three-day trial last February.

On Thursday, the mother of the boys, Amber Clemmer, testified that her oldest child has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder based on a mistaken belief that he should have been able to prevent the abuse against his younger brother.

Amber Clemmer said a faint mark remains where Tonya Clemmer bit her youngest son. 

"Tanya, I will never forgive you for what you've done to my boys," she said. 

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State courts reporter for the Billings Gazette.