Woman accused of drowning 12-year-old son was previously prosecuted for trying to drown him as an infant

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A Strathmore woman was charged Tuesday with the murder of her 12-year-old son and the attempted murder of her 7-year-old son.

It’s one of the Central Valley’s most shocking cases of child homicide and officials say this wasn’t the first time Telnas had been involved with a crime like this. 

Court records show in 2008, Sherri Telnas walked into a river and began to drown her infant son. She stopped before he died.

Officials were able to save the baby and Telnas was prosecuted for the crime, but she wasn’t in custody or separated from her child for long.

Now, over a decade later, Telnas is accused of once again bringing that same child, now nearly a teenager, to a body of water, and drowning him. 

The sun hadn’t quite come up, Saturday, when a man was awoken by a knock on his door.  It was 45-year-old Sherri Telnas and her two boys, Jackson and Jacob. They’d been staying next door at Telnas’s mothers Porterville home, just an hour north of Bakersfield.

Telnas was reportedly acting strangely. The neighbor went next door to get her mother. That’s when he saw Telnas run into a cornfield, her two sons chasing after her. At that point, thing got frantic, and by the time the neighbor and Telnas’s mother found her, she was soaking wet and alone.

They found the two boys, 12-year-old Jackson and 7 year old Jacob face-down floating in an irrigation ditch. 12-year-old Jackson was rushed to the hospital, but he died. Investigators say 7-year-old Jacob is now in a coma, listed in critical condition.

Tulare county detectives quickly confirmed she had no criminal history in Tulare, but found she had a very dark past in Montana and the circumstances were eerily similar.

In 2008, Telnas brought a 10-month-old Jackson to a river and admittedly attempted to drown the baby because “bad thoughts or voices” told her to, according to sheriff’s officials in Mineral County Montana. Telnas was initially charged with attempted murder, but struck a deal and pleaded guilty to two counts of criminal endangerment. Court documents say Telnas’s ability to understand her actions of trying to drown the baby were “seriously compromised as a result of her psychotic symptoms.”

Telnas was committed to the Montana Department of Public and Human Services for a term of 20 years. It’s still unclear how everything unfolded, but family says Telnas spent less than a year in a mental hospital.

The plea deal outlines several privileges and rights Telnas lost, such as owning a firearm, pepper spray, having a guard dog, consuming alcohol and gambling.

But one set of rights it appears she got to keep: her parental rights. 

The plea deal for her criminal case says the outcome of the “Dependent and Neglect case” would determine what contact, if any, the state would allow her to have with the son she tried to drown.

In the Dependent and Neglect case, the state could have stripped Telnas of her parental rights or recommended reunification along with a plan in place. The state would allow what contact, if any, she’d get with her son.

All Dependent and Neglect cases are sealed, but it would appear Telnas did not lose her parental rights. About a year and a half later, the same Missoula judge who presided over her attempted murder case in 2009 also presided over her divorce. That same judge granted Telnas custody of baby Jackson in 2010.

There is much more to this story. On Wednesday on 17 News, we will have much more for you on how this crime unfolded, and the divorce hearings that ultimately gave Telnas child custody.

You’ll also hear from the man who fought Telnas for custody and told a judge that she was a danger to her children and severely mentally ill. 

Telnas is scheduled to be in court Wednesday.

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