Brianna Rose Jackson was an 18-month-old developmentally delayed girl who was small for her age and had only recently started sitting up on her own when her foster father left her alone in a bathtub on July 1, 2009. It was "a recipe for disaster" that ended with the girl's death, a prosecutor said Tuesday at Daniel Lee Wright's sentencing for second-degree manslaughter.
Ramsey County District Judge Gail Chang Bohr sentenced Wright, 52, of St. Paul, to 10 years probation and six months in jail. In April, Wright agreed to an Alford plea, which means he did not admit guilt but acknowledged the state's strong evidence and substantial likelihood of being found guilty at trial.
Wright will have to spend periods of time in jail over the date of Brianna's death for the next seven years. He could serve a four-year prison sentence if he violates his probation.
"It means, Mr. Wright, that Brianna won't be forgotten," Bohr said.
Calling Brianna's death "a failure of the system," Bohr's harshest words were saved for Ramsey County Child Protection Services after Assistant Washington County Attorney Karin McCarthy said county workers had expressed concerns about Daniel and Barbara Wright before Brianna's death. McCarthy said medications and a syringe were easily accessible and workers noticed problems with supervision of the children in the house.
"I heard things said about the fact child protection should have been more vigilant," Bohr said. "It shouldn't have taken a child's death."
Brianna's parents, Keana Farrell and Brian Jackson, sat in the courtroom as their letters to Bohr were read. Farrell wore a T-shirt with a picture of her daughter that said "Mommy's Little Angel." Brianna and her 3-year-old brother had been approved to return to their parents shortly before the incident, McCarthy said.
"Nobody knows how I feel," Farrell wrote in her letter. "I am still devastated."
"I can never watch her grow up," Brian Jackson wrote of his only child. "The pain, anger and resentment will always be there for me."
McCarthy said the family did not think justice was served, but they were pleased Wright will have to serve time in jail on the anniversary of Brianna's death.
Wright read a letter to Brianna asking her to forgive him "for not seeing you were in trouble."
"We will never know why those seconds took you away from all of us," he wrote. Catherine Turner, Wright's attorney, told Bohr that her client was remorseful but that he feels there is a double standard for foster parents.
McCarthy told Bohr even though the crime wasn't intentional, Wright was still legally responsible for what happened.
"He simply left the room and didn't come back for Brianna and that's not acceptable," McCarthy said.
Rose Jackson, Brianna's grandmother who had sought to care for her but was denied because of health problems, said she had one thing to say after the sentencing and it was directed to her only biological grandchild.
"I'm sorry, my little angel, I could not protect you like I promised," she said.
Lora Pabst • 612-916-7212