Five-Year-Old Autistic Boy, Brandon Williams, dead with Overdose of Cold Medicine

Diane Lynn Marsh was sentenced Thursday to 10 years in prison for the March 2007 killing of her autistic son, Brandon Williams, 5.

Marsh sobbed through much of the sentencing by Judge Hector Campoy in Pima County Superior Court.

Campoy said Marsh must pay for the repeated "torture of her vulnerable child," who looked to her for nurture and instead "must have been bewildered" by her actions. object of his love tie him down, allow him to be brutalized and to inflict a skull fracture."

"You may be a good person to (fellow church members), but you were a horrible person to Brandon. You are responsible for his homicide.

"His blood is on your hands," Campoy said.

Defense attorney Steve Sonenberg asked for compassion and for probation for Marsh on all charges, saying she is the one who suffers the most from Brandon's death. A jury convicted her Aug. 4 of negligent homicide and four counts of child abuse in her son's death. She was tried for first-degree murder and child abuse.

Sonenberg, pleading for leniency, said his client has "enormous community support from individuals who "know Diane better than we could determine over the course of this trial."

Marsh, he said, was a "source of inspiration to others in her efforts to better her family," whom her pastor describes as "always calm, gracious and quiet" and "a model of motherly love."

Sonenberg said Marsh "regularly participated in all programming that was available to her. She's not psychotic, she's not immature, she's not addicted to drugs. She was not in denial. She was seeking the services of the community."

According to court records, Marsh stopped counseling and parenting classes and refused contact with Child Protective Services in 2006, took her son out of school in September 2006, and moved into a motel for a while with two homeless people. She also abused the boy over a period of six months, tying him up, scalding his feet and legs, and routinely giving him high doses of adult over-the-counter sleeping medication, according to records in the case.

A teary and angry Melvin Williams, Brandon's father and Marsh's ex-husband, asked the judge to sentence Marsh to prison for her crimes. He said he imagines his son wondering, "Why is my mom doing this to me? She's supposed to protect me."

Campoy told Marsh she is "in denial" if she believes her own testimony that she did nothing directly to harm her son. She blamed her co-defendant, Flower Tompson, who this week was sentenced to 10 years in prison for her part in the boy's abuse and death.

Campoy said neither Marsh nor Tompson and her companion, Mark Lee Moss, a convicted child abuser, have told the truth.
He dismissed Marsh's own teary plea for leniency, though he acknowledged her "genuine remorse."

"I'm not the same person now that I was then," she told the judge.

Campoy said the jury had showed her compassion enough, by finding her guilty of the lesser charge of negligent homicide, rather than first-degree murder. He also admonished her for not telling the court, even at sentencing, the truth about who killed Brandon.

Her recorded telephone conversations from jail showed no sorrow for Brandon, Campoy said, but talk about religion and casting out the devil.

She will get credit for 543 days served in the Pima County Jail.

In an interview after Thursday's sentencing, Melvin Williams said that when he married Marsh in 1999, she was working full time as a medical secretary. She previously received a medical discharge from the Air Force after more than nine years of service.

He challenged the defense attorney's assertion that cognitive issues made it difficult for Marsh to care for an autistic child.

She was smart enough, Williams said, to "test into the Air Force, smart enough to attend Pima Community College and work for five or six years as a medical secretary, and - as her own attorney said - smart enough to sell . . . cosmetics on the side."

"After we got a divorce, she was OK for a while and then she just lost it," he said. He last saw Brandon in September 2006.

Williams said he paid $488 a month in child support for his son and that, when Marsh invited Moss and Tompson to live with her, they survived on the child support and her Air Force disability payments.
"That's how come she didn't want to give him up," he said referring to Marsh's custody of Brandon. "It was the money."

Williams said, however, he would have kept paying child support if Marsh had handed the boy over to him. "She could have the money, just give my son back to me, I don't care."

Williams said Marsh knew "she could bring Brandon to me or bring him to his grandmother."

Glenda Jackson, a member of Marsh's church, came to court in a wheelchair to show Marsh support during sentencing.
"She's a good woman. She got involved with the wrong people," Jackson said. "She needs therapy, not prison."
Tuscon Citizen
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