Beagley gets probation for child abuse; $2,500 fine suspended

HOT SAUCE CASE: She's no public danger, the judge says.

August 29, 2011 

Rather than going to jail, Jessica Beagley is going home. Rather than paying a fine, she's ordered to continue attending counseling sessions with the boy she was convicted of abusing.

A District Court judge sentenced the 36-year-old Anchorage mother -- seen on the "Dr. Phil" show punishing her wailing, adopted son with hot sauce and a cold shower -- on Monday to three years' probation but no immediate jail time or fines.

Judge David Wallace delivered Beagley the suspended sentence of 180 days in jail and a suspended $2,500 fine.

"You're not a danger to the public," the judge told her. "I think you committed a one-time act to get on a TV show."

Beagley faced a maximum $10,000 fine and one year in prison for the single, misdemeanor child abuse charge. At a hearing in downtown Anchorage, Beagley and her lawyer had called on the judge to allow the mother of six to avoid any time behind bars.

"My most important job in this life is of being a mother," Beagley said in a halting plea for leniency. "I would ask that the court would allow me to be that. To be that mother that I would like to be, to not disrupt the lives of my children any more than has been already."

Beagley and her husband adopted the boy shown in the homemade video, along with his twin brother, from Russia in 2008. The couple said they discovered he had extreme behavioral problems.

Beagley contacted the "Dr. Phil" show about a segment called "Angry Moms." She eventually heard back from producers asking her to send video.

She did, but the producers asked her to send additional clips of her doling out punishment, prosecutors said. She was subsequently seen punishing one of the boys on a Nov. 17 segment of the "Dr. Phil" show called "Mommy Confessions."

The child abuse trial, followed by Russian media who track cases of adoptees abused in America, presented a slew of watercooler questions: Where is the line between tough parenting and child abuse? Is putting hot sauce in a mouth any different than washing a mouth out with soap? What if another child is filming it in order to help mom get on television?

A jury of three men and three women convicted Beagley on Aug. 23. She had no prior criminal record.

Prosecutor Cynthia Franklin had asked the judge to sentence Beagley to serve 30 days in jail with another 330 days suspended, plus a $3,000 fine with $1,500 suspended. The point: Send a warning to other parents seeking reality TV fame at the expense of their children.

The Beagleys had recently received more than $10,000 in Permanent Fund dividends when Jessica appeared on the "Dr. Phil" show, Franklin said. The family had "ample resources" to find help in other ways, she argued.

"It was child abuse that was completely gratuitous," Franklin said. "It was for no reason, no apparent reason, other than Jessica Beagley appearing on television."

Meantime, she said, the boy in the video is being teased at school. His teachers tell other children not to talk about the clip because it upsets him.

Jessica's husband, Gary, an Anchorage police officer, defended his wife.

The boy in the video has problems that the couple's other children do not -- a psychologist had testified during the trial that the child was diagnosed with Reactive Attachment Disorder -- and the Beagleys didn't know what to do with him, Gary said.

"We just ended up getting wrapped up in television and we had no idea where that would end up," he said.

Jessica Beagley's lawyer, William Ingaldson, said that in many ways the couple has been punished ever since the show aired. People stand outside their house, he said. They make threats.

The defense lawyer urged the judge to consider more than 20 letters filed in support of Jessica Beagley and noted that the state Office of Children's Services had investigated the family and saw no need to remove the children.

Beagley's lawyer had asked for a suspended imposition of sentence, which would have allowed the conviction to be dismissed from her record if she met certain conditions.

That's the kind of second chance given to the young and spiteful, the judge said. Shoplifters and trespassers who commit crimes on a whim.

Beagley's punishment of her son was not done on a lark, he said. She'd been thinking about it for years, said Wallace, who wondered in court about the boy's upbringing as an orphan in Russia, a background that made the charge all the more serious.

The judge described the abuse as a "premeditated, gratuitous act against a boy that you knew had problems."

The clips were disturbing, Wallace said. The sound of the boy screaming in the cold shower for misbehaving in school will stay with those who heard it.

Still, the judge said Beagley was not the worst kind of offender and this was not the worst kind of offense.

"Outside of this case, you're a good mom," Wallace said as he handed down the sentence before a small courtroom filled with maybe a dozen onlookers and a line of cameras.

In waiving any immediate fine, Wallace cited Beagley's need to pay for continued treatment of her children.

After the sentencing the Beagleys bolted for the swinging courtroom doors, ignoring reporters' questions as they walked to a stairwell.


Twitter updates: twitter.com/adn_kylehopkins. Call Kyle Hopkins at 257-4334.

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