Provo Police arrested a 29-year-old Provo woman Oct. 3 on charges of child abuse homicide for knowingly allowing the abuse leading to her son’s death.
Police arrested the woman, Brianna Brown, after they received the results of an autopsy that verified that her 1-year-old son had died of a non-accidental head injury.
Police were called to the home of Brianna Brown, where her boyfriend, Joshua Harding, also lived, on Nov. 27, 2012. Upon arrival police found that Brown’s son, Paxton Stokes, was not breathing. Paxton was later pronounced dead at Utah Valley Regional Medical Center.
“The defendant (Brown) and Harding, her boyfriend, were the only adults who were with Paxton during the time frame in which the blows causing Paxton’s death could have happened,” according to a Provo Police press release.
Harding was also arrested on Oct. 3 and is being charged with child homicide. After the investigation, Provo Police believe Harding committed the homicide.
However, the Utah County Attorney’s Office believed there was enough evidence to arrest Brown as well. Brown is being charged with child homicide because she knowingly allowed the abuse to occur within her home.
“The child’s mother has to bear the burden of justice the same way because she knew about it and allowed it to occur,” said Lt. Mathew Siufanua of the Provo Police. “We have to be able to protect our children and report these type of abuses. Hypothetically, we could have prevented all of this from happening if Briana would have called us.”
Because of the nature of the investigation, it took more than 10 months for police to arrest Brown and Harding.
“Most child abuse is internal,” Siufanua said. “The autopsy took six months to come to us.”
Siufanua said a court date should be set sometime in the near future and the legal process could take “up to a year” before final charges are finally given.
“The first stage is the investigation,” Siufanua said. “We have now submitted all of our paperwork, and the ball is in the prosecutor’s court.”
Child homicide is a first degree felony with sentences that range from five years to life in prison. The eventual sentences for Harding and Brown could potentially reflect the fact that this case involved the abuse and death of an child who was completely reliant upon his caregivers.
However, Nancy Volmer, media specialist for the Utah County Fourth District Court, explained how it is hard to predict the severity of the sentence.
“There are a lot of different things the judge takes into consideration,” Volmer said. “Letters from families, pre-sentence hearings and the judge has to decide if he wants to sentence consecutively or concurrently. So many things come into play.”
The court has not yet decided whether Brown and Harding will receive a trial by jury.
This type of crime is rare within both the state of Utah and Utah County. In 2012 Utah ranked 40th out of the 50 states in number of murders reported. (The official FBI website defines murder as “the willful (non-negligent) killing of one human being by another.”)
Utah, which has a population of 2,855,287 people, reported 50 murders in 2012. The state rate of murders, 1.8 per 100,000 inhabitants, is significantly lower than the national average — 4.7 per 100,00 inhabitants.
Utah County recorded no murders and only 19 counts of violent crimes in 2012. The official FBI website and database of the Criminal Justice Information Services Division defines violent crimes as four offenses: “murder and non-negligent manslaughter, forcible rape, robbery and aggravated assault.”
Nationally, the number of murders has dropped within the past decade. In 1993 the FBI reported 24,526 murders (rate of 9.5 per 100,00 inhabitants). In 2012 that number had dropped to 14,827 (rate of 4.7 per 100,00 inhabitants).
Residents can call Provo Police at 801-852-6210 to report any suspicious activities.