A Kyle woman was sentenced Friday to 40 years in federal prison for murdering a 2-year-old boy she was raising.
Lori Ann Wisecarver, 44, received double the maximum prison time she was facing, a sentence the prosecutor requested. Wisecarver had pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in the death of Jayden Locke on Feb. 24, 2015, the result she said of repeated physical abuse largely due to potty-training problems.
An autopsy revealed the boy died from multiple blunt trauma injury, including to his head and abdomen.
“She deserves every single day of that 40 years,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Sarah Collins said at the Rapid City hearing Friday morning.
Collins asked U.S. District Court Chief Judge Jeffrey Viken for a harsher sentence, saying the child died not from a single incident but from physical abuse that persisted over at least a month.
Citing instances of abuse, the prosecutor said Wisecarver rubbed Jayden’s face in urine after the boy “had an accident” on the floor, duct-taped him to the toilet and put him inside a washing machine.
The boy’s entire body, including his hands, had been found covered in “huge, deep dark bruises,” Collins said. He also had a burn-like mark on his face, likely from a chemical that was poured or rubbed on him.
“She degraded him in every way she could,” Collins said, asking the court to imagine the fear the child would have felt in the face of such abuse. “She wasn’t obligated to have him … She could have given him back.”
Wisecarver, a distant relative of Jayden, was given guardianship of the child by the Oglala Sioux Tribal Court in October 2014 after his mother lost custody of him and two siblings due to drug use, according to court records.
Paula Running Shield, Wisecarver’s niece who testified for the prosecution, said the boy never had a fighting chance.
“He was a baby,” she cried, her voice trembling as she stood before Viken. “Why would somebody torture a baby over potty training? He was 2 years old.”
Defense attorney Erin Bolinger said Wisecarver couldn’t explain how the crime happened. Wisecarver had no criminal history and had raised her own children without issue.
Wisecarver’s children, who had written to the judge in support of their mother, were “filled with lovely memories of growing up with Lori,” Bolinger said.
The lawyer said Wisecarver has expressed remorse for her crime, wishes to receive psychological treatment and wants a chance at redemption.
“Lori should not be solely defined by this terrible, terrible tragedy,” Bolinger said. She recommended a prison sentence of 20 years, “a substantial amount of time for a substantial crime.”
Wisecarver declined to speak but had submitted a letter to the judge.
In explaining his judgment, Viken said the sentencing guideline range that lays out a 22-year maximum prison term for Wisecarver doesn’t factor in the heinous, cruel and brutal nature of the child’s death.
“The killing of an innocent child is among the most serious crimes we have,” said Viken, who has the authority to give a sentence above the guideline range after reviewing all the case factors. “The seriousness of the offense merits the seriousness of the punishment.”
Collins had submitted 10 photos from Jayden’s autopsy, which were sealed from public view.
Wisecarver had originally been charged with first-degree murder, a premeditated killing, as well as felony child abuse (aggravated battery of an infant) and felony child abuse and neglect. They were dismissed in accordance with her plea deal with the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
After Viken pronounced Wisecarver’s sentence of 40 years, Bolinger helped keep her upright with a hand on her back after Wisecarver moved to take a seat. Behind Wisecarver, in the gallery, people who came to support her started crying.
Wisecarver, also known as Lori Vocu, will continue to be detained at the Pennington County Jail until her federal detention facility has been determined. Her prison term will be followed by five years of supervised release.
Her husband, Mitchell Wisecarver, 44, was sentenced in June to a year and a half of jail time served for failing to report that his wife had been abusing Jayden. He was ordered also to a year of supervised release.
In an interview after the hearing, Running Shield said speaking up against a family member was difficult but that someone needed to serve as a voice for the child.
Jayden’s maternal aunt, Christie Locke, had told the judge: “He was loved no matter what they say about his mom being a drug addict … He was loved a lot. He could have lived a long, happy life.”