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April 10, 2021
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Utah day care owner pleads guilty, but isn’t admitting she was the one to injure 2 kids

SALT LAKE CITY — More than a decade after two babies in her care were rushed to emergency rooms, a Murray woman has admitted to reduced criminal charges tied to their injuries.

But Kami Kay Tollefson isn’t admitting that she was the one to strike or shake the kids, then a 16-month-old boy and 13-month-old girl.

As part of a plea deal that the children’s parents view as lenient, Kami Kay Tollefson pleaded guilty Monday in Salt Lake City’s 3rd District Court to two reduced counts of negligent child abuse, a class A misdemeanor.

Tollefson in both cases “had custody and care of a child and negligently allowed another to seriously injure the child,” her defense attorney Deborah Kreeck Mendez said. She did not provide details on who may have harmed the kids. The defense has previously argued the injuries could have resulted from accidents.

The boy, Isaak Crandall, was hit so hard by something while at the day care in 2008 that his pancreas split and he need emergency surgery. Tollefson said she had found the boy lying on the ground by a swing set, prosecutors have alleged.

The girl, HaLee Miller, suffered head trauma in Tollefson’s home in 2010, causing her brain to bleed and leaving her with detached retinas. Doctors concluded she had been violently shaken by someone of adult strength, causing bleeding in her brain.

Attorney Heidi Nestel, who’s representing the boy’s family, told the judge she tried to get in touch with HaLee’s father, Steven Miller, ahead of the hearing. A Salt Lake County district attorney’s spokesman said the same later in the day. But Miller told the Deseret News he hadn’t heard from anyone about the plea agreement.

“I don’t know what to say. I’m just kind of blown away because no one told us anything,” Miller said, adding that his daughter suffered injuries much more severe than the misdemeanor charges reflect.

“My kid had to learn how to walk and eat again.”

Tollefson was originally charged with three counts of child abuse, a second-degree felony. She’s been out on bail since 2010.

Parents of the children aren’t formally opposing the plea bargain like they did with a more lenient version five years ago, said Nestel.

Still, Nestel said, “this is more lenient and more favorable to the defendant than the victims would hope.”

Tollefson answered guilty when a judge asked for her plea to both charges in the hearing held via videoconference because of the pandemic. The counts both carry up to a year in jail, and Nestel said she’ll argue for time behind bars. Sentencing is set for June 22.

As the children have grown and recovered from their injuries, the case has dragged on for more than a decade.

The earlier proposed plea agreement required no jail time and no admission of guilt from Tollefson in the cases of three injured children, prompting the families to argue against the deal. Judge Randall Skanchy rejected the plea bargain in 2016 and the case went to trial in 2018.

Prosecutors alleged during the trial that Tollefson hit, squeezed or shook the three children and that she offered varying explanations but was the common denominator in each case. The defense argue that accidental causes couldn’t be ruled out.

Jurors found Tollefson not guilty of abusing one toddler, 18-month-old Aiden Campbell, who was deprived of oxygen for an estimated 30 seconds while in her care in 2009, causing blood vessels in his face to begin to burst.

The jurors were unable to reach a verdict on the two others, ending in a mistrial for their cases.

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