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Appeals court affirms abuse conviction of Anchorage woman in hot sauce case

  • Author: Jerzy Shedlock
  • Updated: September 28, 2016
  • Published July 31, 2015

An Alaska appeals court has affirmed the 2011 child abuse conviction of Jessica Beagley, the Anchorage "hot sauce mom" who prosecutors said used a videotape of herself punishing her adopted Russian son to try to get on the "Dr. Phil" show.

The Alaska Court of Appeals agreed with Beagley that Anchorage's ordinance defining child abuse is vague but called the claims moot.

In a memorandum opinion issued Wednesday, the court also denied Beagley's request for a new trial on grounds of juror misconduct. It upheld her district court conviction of child abuse.

In 2011, Begley received three years of probation, a suspended jail sentence of 180 days, and a suspended $2,500 fine.

Beagley generated headlines nationwide starting in late 2010 after her appearance on the "Dr. Phil" talk show. The video showed her punishing her son by putting hot sauce in his mouth and forcing him into a cold shower.

In January 2011, the Municipality of Anchorage charged Beagley with child abuse. The mother argued she was seeking help for the problematic child.

But jurors sided with the municipality. Beagley's abuse was "completely gratuitous," and she filmed it simply to get on TV, prosecutor Cynthia Franklin said at that time.

In her appeal, Beagley claimed the city's child abuse ordinance was unconstitutionally vague because it fails to clearly define what constitutes "reasonable parental discipline," other than prohibiting torture and cruel punishment against children.

The appeals court agreed the wording of the ordinance is potentially problematic.

However, Chief Judge David Mannheimer concluded, "Beagley's jury was not asked to decide whether Beagley engaged in parental discipline that was unreasonable. Rather, they were asked to decide whether Beagley engaged in parental discipline at all — or whether, as the Municipality alleged, she mistreated her son as a ploy to get on national television."

Beagley also asked for a new trial, asserting one of jurors committed misconduct in her case by either giving false answers during jury selection or by independently researching the case, the opinion says.

Beagley based the assertion on an affidavit filed by another juror stating that at some point during the trial, a juror said Beagley should have known better because Beagley's husband was a police officer.

There was no mention of her husband's occupation during the trial, the opinion says.

The appeals court said the claim was inadequately presented in Beagley's appeal. She failed to present underlying facts and legal arguments to the claim, the opinion says.

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