By Nomaan Merchant
DALLAS — A Dallas woman whose 10-year-old stepson died after she denied him water, even as temperatures soared over 100 degrees, was sentenced Tuesday to 85 years in prison.
Tina Marie Alberson did not react as her sentence was announced. She was convicted last week of reckless injury to a child, a second-degree felony, in the July 2011 death of Jonathan James.
Jonathan’s mother, Krista Bishop, and other relatives said they were pleased with the verdict.
“We got what we needed,” Bishop told reporters outside the court.
Police had thought Jonathan’s death was heat-related until the medical examiner’s report indicated otherwise.
Alberson, who testified in her own defense, told jurors that she limited Jonathan’s water intake a few times as punishment for misbehaving, and that she saw him drinking water when he wasn’t in “time-out.” She said she saw no sign that he was in medical distress.
The boy’s twin brother, now 12, testified that Jonathan repeatedly asked for water and pretended to use the bathroom so that he could sneak a drink from the faucet before their stepmother ordered him out.
Joseph James told jurors he was concerned for his brother’s health but was too afraid of Alberson to do anything.
During the sentencing phase, the twins’ maternal grandmother, Sue Shotwell, testified that they didn’t like to go to Alberson’s house and that Jonathan couldn’t understand why he was always in trouble with his stepmother.
“There was a time he came home with a red mark around his neck and we asked him what happened and he said, ‘Tina,’” Shotwell said Tuesday.
“We trusted you with our baby,” she said in a statement to the court after the sentence was handed down. “If I could speak for Jonathan right now, I would know — you would know — that he still loves you.”
Alberson is expected to be eligible for parole after serving one-quarter of her sentence, or a little more than 20 years, according to Debbie Denmon, spokeswoman for the Dallas County District Attorney’s office. Alberson’s attorney, Bill Fay, said he planned to appeal the conviction and sentence, but wouldn’t say on what grounds.
“I can’t comment about a case that’s still pending,” Fay said.
The boy’s father, Michael Ray James, testified against Alberson because he said he wanted to see “that justice gets done.” James, 43, will be tried for felony injury to a child next month.
Shotwell said she’s forgiven Alberson but many members of the family, including Jonathan’s mother, have not. She said they remember Jonathan as an active little boy who wanted to wake up before dawn so he could ride his bike.
“I had to remind him that everyone else was asleep but us, and that he had to be very quiet outside, which he couldn’t do,” Shotwell said.
While in jail, Denmon said, Alberson became friends with an inmate involved in a high-profile child injury case: Elizabeth Escalona, who was sentenced to 99 years in prison last year for gluing her toddler’s hands to a wall and attacking her over potty training problems.