A Durango man who pleaded guilty to abusing his 4-year-old daughter – to the extent that she is expected to remain in a coma the rest of her life – was sentenced Friday to 12 years in prison.
Sixth Judicial District Judge Todd Norvell sentenced Morgan Abbey, 35, to the maximum 12 years in prison allowed under a plea agreement.
“You essentially killed your daughter,” Norvell told Abbey. “There is no sentence I can impose on you that would fairly account for the sentence you’ve imposed on your own daughter.”
The 4-year-old victim appeared Friday in the courtroom, in a wheelchair, in a coma and using an oxygen tank for assistance. Throughout the sentencing hearing, the girl could be heard moaning.
Authorities are unsure exactly what Abbey did to put the girl in a coma, though it’s suspected he grabbed her by the feet, swung her around, causing her to hit her head. She had other bruises all over her body when she was taken to the hospital.
The girl’s mother, Andrea Wyne, 35, also pleaded guilty to child abuse but to a lesser charge that says she did not commit the injuries that put the girl in a comatose state. She pleaded guilty to a charge stating that she was compliant and knew of the abuse Abbey inflicted on the child.
Wyne was sentenced to 90 days in jail, 10 years of supervised probation and 100 days of community service. While on probation, she will be prohibited from contacting her children and other minors.
“You’re responsible, too, and you have to live with that,” Norvell told Wyne. “I hope you never have access to your kids for the rest of your life. ... I’m accepting this agreement, barely, holding my own nose because you don’t deserve it.”
Abbey and Wyne were taken from the courtroom in handcuffs and will start their sentences immediately. Both must pay court fines and restitution, which will be determined later.
According to authorities, the 4-year-old girl was taken unconscious and seizing to Mercy Regional Medical Center in January 2018. A few hours later, she was flown to a Denver hospital with life-threatening injuries.
The parents, Norvell said, told investigators differing accounts of the injuries, at times calling them accidental or blaming them on “roughhousing” with her brothers. Police, however, had their doubts, especially because Abbey was the suspect, but ultimately not charged, in a similar incident in 2009 when another child of Abbey’s, a 3-month-old, was taken to the hospital with a broken arm and bleeding in his brain. The child survived the injuries. A former girlfriend of Abbey’s told investigators Abbey admitted to hurting the child.
After further investigation into the 4-year-old daughter’s injuries, police arrested Abbey and Wyne for child abuse.
At Friday’s hearing, Norvell pressed Abbey to admit what happened. Abbey, moments before hearing his sentence, admitted abusing his daughter and Wyne’s three other children.
“I’ve placed hands on all these children,” he said. “And I was much harsher on her, and I’ve gone further than I should have at times.”
According to testimony, Abbey returned to Durango a few years ago after leaving his family behind while he lived briefly in California. In Durango, he lived with Wyne and the four children at 60 Westwood Place, according to court documents.
Abbey, pleading to Norvell, said he had a difficult upbringing and battles with mental health issues. He said he has struggled with drug addictions, too, including the use of methamphetamemes.
“I’ve been devastated over (the child’s) injuries since day one,” he said.
But Norvell persisted in his line of questioning, saying Abbey refused to accept responsibility for his actions.
Authorities say Abbey grabbed the girl by the feet and swung her around, causing her head to hit a wall, an act the other children in the home told police was a common occurrence. Norvell asked Abbey if this was the case, but he deflected the question.
“I don’t believe you,” Norvell said. “You did this to her.”
Paul Geslao, an emergency room nurse at Mercy Regional Medical Center, said he was one of the first responders when the girl arrived at the hospital. He examined her body for injuries and found bruises all over her body.
A scan found bleeding in her brain and a skull fracture. A portion of her skull was removed to relieve the pressure.
“I knew the little girl she was, was gone forever,” he said. “(Her parents) have stolen her childhood, her adolescence, her adulthood.”
Wyne’s attorney, Heather Little, described Wyne as a struggling single mother who deserved a lesser sentence because she did not cause the injuries.
Wyne, in the few comments she made to Norvell, said she failed her family.
“I love my children, but I failed them and my family that day,” Wyne said. “I wasn’t paying enough attention (to the abuse occurring).”
But Norvell said initial investigations into the incident show Wyne actively tried to cover up what happened and collaborated with Abbey. Investigators also talked with multiple witnesses who say Wyne physically abused all her children.
Speaking with investigators, all the children in the home said they were hit frequently, often with belts, spoons and even a baton.
“It must have been hell for those children,” Norvell said.
When asked why she lied to police, Wyne said she and Abbey were “stressed” and “scared.” She did not admit to knowing Abbey went to such extreme measures with his physical abuse.
“I thought she was just tired,” Wyne said of the day she saw her daughter’s injuries.
“I don’t believe you,” Norvell responded. “You’re concocting stories to save your own skin.”
The children are now under the care of their grandfather.
“I can’t tell you how sorry I am this happened,” Norvell said, speaking to the family. “I hope for that miracle (the girl coming out of the coma) that others have wished.”
A former version of this story said Abbey’s 3-month-old child died from brain bleeding. The child survived those injuries.