ALBION — A woman whose four children were suffering from malnourishment and disease while living in deplorable conditions in a Wolcottville home strewn with trash, urine and feces and was sentenced to two years for that neglect.
Her then 3-month-old infant may have been just days away from death, on the verge of starvation and so emaciated and dehydrated that it weighed less than many newborns. Three other children were suffering other various ailments including lice and scabies.
Cheyenne Stiner, 27, received a total sentence of four years, but only two will be served as executed time. Of those two years, one year will be served behind bars in prison, while the second can be served on Noble County Community Corrections. The other two years are suspended to probation.
The case was pleaded down from more serious neglect charges.
Stiner, along with two men, Jerry Snyder and Paul Martin, were arrested after five children were removed from a reportedly filthy home in Wolcottville due to extreme malnourishment and neglect, according to court documents.
Stiner’s 3-month-old child was so dehydrated that medical staff couldn’t start an IV and had to drill a hole into the infant’s leg bone to start fluids.
Another of the children had a double ear infection and pneumonia. Three other children were treated for illnesses relating to neglect. All five children were been placed in the care of the Department of Child Services.
Martin and Stiner were the parents of one of the children. Snyder and Stiner were parents of two of the children. Snyder was the sole parent of one of the other children. Stiner also was the sole parent of one of the other children living at the home.
The home had no running water, no proper bathroom and no food, according to court documents. There were two small mattresses in an upstairs room, The mattresses were “surrounded by trash, feces and dirty diapers.”
The Department of Child Services visited the home on Feb. 28, 2018, to investigate a report of a malnourished infant. After not receiving a response at the home, DCS received an emergency removal order.
Occupants allegedly didn’t want to let officers into the house, at which point they were detained.
Officers observed “large amount of trash and feces strewn about the house,” according to filings.
All three adults were charged with various count of neglect.
A sentencing for Snyder was supposed to occur Friday, but was delayed until March. A change of plea and sentencing hearing is set for Martin in April.
On Friday, Stiner’s attorney Greg Fumarolo said this case was representative of one where child service works extremely well. After law enforcement and Department of Child Services removed the children from the home and criminal charges were filed, Stiner has successfully begun a long path to rehabilitation, he said.
“My client got involved in the DCS system and has done very well,” he said, adding later, “I believe Cheyenne is well on her way as rehabilitation is concerned.”
Fumarolo noted that Stiner has no previous criminal record and was scored as a low risk to reoffend in a pre-sentence investigation. He asked that the court consider allowing her to serve any executed time on home detention.
Deputy Prosecutor Leslie Shively made no argument for a particular sentence, but spent her time reminding the court of the heinous circumstances of the incident.
The children in the house ranged from Stiner’s 3-month old to an 11-year-old. All five were living in “extreme” conditions in a house that was filled with trash and had patches of dog urine and feces as well as dirty diapers.
The 3-month-old may not have survived much longer in those conditions if DCS had not intervened, Shively posited.
Despite a clearly starving infant and conditions in the house that could only be described as “deplorable,” no one made any effort to improve the situation or care for the children.
Because the house had no plumbing, Shively cited examples that people walked to a nearby gas station to use a toilet and drove to a relative’s home in Michigan to bathe.
“There were three adults living there and no one was working,” Shively said. “I fully believe it was laziness.”
Shively acknowledged that Stiner has put in significant work to improve since the children were removed, but also stated that punishment needed to be part of the sentence.
“This kind of maltreatment will not be tolerated in this community,” Shively said.
Noble Circuit Court Judge Michael Kramer noted that Stiner has not criminal history and noted her effort to meet the requirements of the DCS case in order to improve herself and perhaps regain custody of her children some day.
But the judge also cited the biggest negative was the extreme situation of neglect.
“The extent of malnutrition and filth was senseless,” Kramer said.
Kramer also pointed out that while the children appeared to be starving, Stiner’s first appearances in court did not show that she was unhealthy or malnourished.
If the situation were truly so dire, Kramer said that he could only expect that if she had knocked on a few neighbors doors to beg for food or money for her children that she might not have had to look far for help. Local agencies, churches and others could have helped, if only she had sought help.
“You did not look like you were starving,” Kramer said. “You were taking care of yourself, but not taking care of your children.”
Stiner was originally charged with one Level 3 felony, two Level 5 felonies and one Level 6 felony county. The Level 3 was pleaded down to a Level 5 and the other three were accepted as charged.
For the three Level 5 charges and the Level 6, Kramer delivered the same sentence for all four counts — four years, with two executed and two suspended to probation. The two years executed will be served one in the Department of Correction and one on community corrections.
Stiner was given credit for 112 actual days she already served. She was fined $1 and ordered to continue counseling if she had completed DCS-mandated counseling upon her release.
Kramer told Stiner she was fortunate the more serious charge was pleaded down, or else she might have been spending more time behind bars.
“This is such a senseless and outrageous case that executed time in warranted,” he said.