BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — A Lake Isabella couple have been found guilty in connection with the death of their 1-year-old daughter, who suffered severe head trauma, bruising all over her body and injuries to her throat consistent with strangulation.
Jeffrey Sullins, 31, was found guilty Wednesday of murder, assault and child cruelty and faces 25 years to life in prison. Ashley Saffell, 29, was found not guilty of murder and instead convicted of involuntary manslaughter and child cruelty. She faces seven years behind bars.
Sentencing is set for Nov. 8.
At trial, prosecutor Nick Lackie said Sullins beat his daughter to death. The child had injuries in various stages of healing, he said, some inflicted weeks earlier.
Saffell knew about the abuse but didn’t get help, Lackie said. She had a duty as the girl’s mother to protect her, he said, and she failed.
On the morning of Jan. 29, 2022, deputies were called to Bernie Drive, west of Lake Isabella Boulevard and north of Chain Avenue, to a report of a child not breathing. The girl was declared dead at the scene.
Saffell told investigators she found the girl motionless in her crib, a 32-inch flat-screen TV apparently having fallen on her as she slept.
The child’s extensive injuries couldn’t be accounted for by the TV, according to a pathologist.
Sullins had been with the child the entire day before.
“An innocent child fell victim to two heartless monsters who were supposed to be her protectors,” District Attorney Cynthia Zimmer said in a news release. “Children are among the most vulnerable victims in our county and although her life was tragically cut short, justice will prevail as her killers face the full consequences of their despicable crimes.”
Sullins’ public defender, Lexi Blythe, argued at trial the death was an accident. She told the jury it was well known the toddler threw violent tantrums and had repeatedly injured herself.
Gary Turnbull, Saffell’s attorney, called the case against her “ludicrous” and said she had no idea of the severity of her daughter’s injuries. The child always wore a onesie, he said, and Sullins, as the primary caregiver, changed her.
Turnbull said Saffell was a caring, loving mother.
But Lackie said Saffell knew her daughter had previously been injured while in Sullins’ care. Her phone had messages in which a mouth injury was discussed. Despite insisting she would take the girl to a doctor, Saffell never had her examined, he said.