Crime & Courts

Wasilla ‘black widow’ mother who coerced children into surrogate pregnancy enters guilty plea

A 77-year-old Wasilla woman accused of indoctrinating her children into believing they needed to get pregnant and give her the babies entered a guilty plea to assault Monday in a Palmer courtroom.

In exchange for the plea, Palmer Superior Court Judge Jonathan Woodman sentenced Shawn O’Shea-Grantham to six years in prison -- more than five of which she has already served.

Maileia O’Shea-Grantham, the older woman’s 46-year-old daughter-like figure, also entered a guilty plea to the same crimes: two counts of felony assault, reflecting the brother-and-sister victims in the case. She received the same sentence: 10 years in prison, four suspended, six to serve.

The deal includes the dismissal of charges of first-degree sexual abuse of a minor against the pair.

Under old sentencing laws that applied when the crimes were committed between 1993 and 2003, the strictest sentence the pair faced was eight years in prison, prosecutors say.

The sentence handed down Monday is similar, but the plea deal also gives the victims finality and closure without the stress of a trial, Assistant District Attorney Brittany Dunlop said after the hearing Monday. The deal also bans both women from contacting minors.

The assault conviction constitutes a “barrier crime” for the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services. Dunlop said she was most focused on making sure the younger O’Shea-Grantham can’t adopt more children.

“So she can’t have kids in her care,” Dunlop said.

Sky Johnson was one of two child victims in the home. Johnson, who came forward with her story in 2013 and gave reporters permission to identify her, listened to Monday’s hearing by phone.

Johnson, now 32, has described growing up in a family that looked like a normal mother-children household to outsiders but instead included four generations that started with great-grandmother Shawn and then her “children,” who included grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Johnson had a child during her time in the home. She said she and her siblings were the children of one of Shawn’s older children.

Johnson described her former home as filthy and said O’Shea-Grantham ran the family with threats and intimidation. She said the older woman beat her if she didn’t clean the house and deprived her brother of food. Johnson said she also encouraged her to have sex with men she selected, calling surrogate parenting “the clan way” to make a family.

The children were kept isolated, even from neighborhood kids, and Shawn asked they call her a “black widow” to perpetuate the myth that the children were hers and their fathers had all died in plane or car crashes.

On Monday, Johnson expressed satisfaction with the plea deal, especially the “barrier crime” aspect, and relief the court case was over: Two previous trials had been put off, creating an emotionally draining roller coaster.

Johnson said she hopes her decision to go through with the grueling case inspires victims in other abusive situations to speak out.

“It was exhausting, horrible. But I’m glad I did it,” she said by phone. “I’m glad that nobody else has to go through this.”