A woman accused of being responsible in the near-starvation of two toddlers on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation last year is set to plead guilty on Friday.
The toddlers’ maternal aunt, 32-year-old Darshan Featherman, will plead guilty to felony child abuse and neglect, according to court records. The federal offense is punishable by up to 15 years in prison and as much as three years of supervised release.
The children, girls ages 3 and 2, were found “severely emaciated” at the home of their maternal grandmother, Roberta Featherman, court documents state. The children’s mother left the younger girl in the care of Darshan Featherman and the older one with Roberta Featherman.
The toddlers were accidentally discovered, according to an FBI report, when Oglala Sioux tribal police responded to a call about a fight at the Potato Creek residence late one evening in November. Both children weighed about 13 pounds and had limited movement.
A pediatrician who examined them told the FBI that the girls would have died had they not been found. The doctor compared their level of starvation to those of World War II Holocaust victims and said the psychological impact of such abuse would be comparable to or greater than the physical pain.
Darshan Featherman, of Kyle, admitted she “withheld necessary nourishment” from the child in her custody, according to a statement that accompanied her plea agreement with prosecutors. She said she was unable to provide the children with care because of substance abuse issues and knew the 2-year-old was “being starved by the people living in Roberta’s home.”
A search of Roberta and Darshan Featherman’s residences turned up “plentiful food,” the FBI report stated. Witnesses told investigators that family members would hide food so the toddlers would not "steal" it.
The children’s mother, 34-year-old Darcel Featherman, pleaded guilty Sept. 29 to felony child abuse and neglect.
When she turned over her daughters in the spring of 2016, she knew Darshan Featherman was a “methamphetamine user and an alcoholic” and Roberta Featherman was a “lifelong alcoholic with anger issues,” according to a court statement.
Roberta Featherman, 50, and a man who lived with her, Harold Red Owl, 52, have both been charged with twin counts of assault resulting in serious bodily injury and felony child abuse and neglect. Assault, their most serious charge, carries a maximum sentence of life in prison.
The children, meanwhile, have been placed in the custody of the Oglala Sioux Tribe and have gained weight in foster care.