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Sierra Nelson will be spending the next 7 years to 17 years in state prison Dauphin County Judge Deborah Curcillo sentenced the Harrisburg woman to 6 years to 12 years on the charge of aggravated assault of a child with a consecutive prison term of 1 year to 5 years on the charge of endangering the welfare of a child.
Nelson’s sentence comes after a Dauphin County jury on January 17, 2019, convicted her of assaulting and causing severe injuries to her then four month old daughter, Ava Houston. During the three day jury trial the jury heard testimony from Dr. Kent Hymel, a child abuse expert from Hershey Medical Center, who described for the jury the baby’s injuries which included 33 rib fractures, at least 4 skull fractures, a fractured clavicle, a fractured vertebrae, she was severely underweight and had multiple, severe brain injuries. Dr. Hymel told the jury that the baby’s injuries were inflicted on multiple occasions rather than all at one time. He told them that the injuries she suffered are life altering.
As a result of the severe injuries, the parental rights of Nelson and the baby’s father, Andre Houston, were terminated. The child, now three years old, was adopted by another family last year. The child’s adoptive mother testified at sentencing. She described the serious medical issues that her child will have to endure for the rest of her life. The child has permanent brain damage, must be fed through a feeding tube and may never walk. Her new mother also described the great strides her child has made since she has come into her home. She described her daughter as always having a sunny disposition and smile on her face, she is learning how to speak and never fails to bring joy to all of the family. She told Judge Curcillo, “Her bones may have been broken, but her spirit wasn’t broken.” Chief Deputy District Attorney Seán M. McCormack called the child’s new home and family “the silver lining in an otherwise tragic set of circumstances”.
Nelson testified during her trial and painted a picture of herself as a loving caring mother that could never harm her child. Under cross examination at trial Chief Deputy District Attorney Seán M. McCormack pointed out the numerous inconsistencies in Nelson’s testimony as compared to her prior statements to child protective services, the police and the doctors treating her daughter. It was those very same inconsistencies that McCormack later argued to the jury proved that Nelson, not Houston, was the person who severely injured her daughter.
At sentencing, Nelson was still not ready to take responsibility for injuring her baby. When Nelson spoke to Judge Curcillo prior to sentencing she continued to deny harming her child and failed to even take responsibility for not seeking the medical care her four month old daughter clearly needed. In part she indicated that she regretted following the orders of the doctors that saw Ava. Both McCormack and Judge Curcillo commented on her lack of remorse and blame shifting during the hearing.
After the sentencing, McCormack again praised the hard work of everyone involved in the investigation and prosecution of this case. “This case is a perfect example of how this type of crime should be investigated. In particular, the teamwork during this investigation between Sydelle Chase, formerly of Dauphin County Children & Youth, and Harrisburg Police Detective Paula Trovy had a direct impact on our ability to obtain justice for this little girl.” McCormack continued, “I also want to thank Deputy District Attorney Katie Adam for her invaluable help during prosecution of this case.”