A former Aberdeen woman who admitted to abuse and manslaughter in a case involving the 2011 death of Central High School graduate Christina Harms could spend life in prison.
Cassandra M. Shepard, 29, was sentenced Friday in Utah to from five years to life in prison on a charge of intentional aggravated abuse of a disabled adult. She was sentenced from one year to 15 years in prison on the manslaughter count. She previously pleaded guilty to the charges, resulting in a murder charge being dropped.
The prison terms will be served consecutively. Ultimately, a Utah parole board will decide when or if Shepard ever gets out of prison.
Shepard was Harms' legal guardian as well as a relative.
According to The Salt Lake Tribune reporter Marissa Lang, Marilee Nelson and Tonya Willprecht, family friends from Minnesota who spoke at Friday’s sentencing in memory of Harms, said they will never forgive Shepard for her actions. They said each had offered to care for Harms before Shepard moved to Utah in 2010, but Shepard refused.
"I wanted to look the woman in the face and tell her, may God forgive you, because I never will," Willprecht said, according to the Tribune. "She needs to be treated the way Nina was treated. That would be fair. That would be justice."
On March 25, 2011, Harms was pronounced dead in the living room of the Kearns, Utah, home she shared with Shepard; Shepard's mother, Sherrie Beckering; and Shepard's stepfather, Dale Beckering. All four people used to live in Aberdeen.
Authorities said Harms, 22, was bound crucifixion-style to a pole in a coat closet equipped with an alarm. They said she was given little food and water and high levels of a sedative to keep her compliant. They said they found a pepper seed in her eye.
A prosecuting attorney previously said that in the abuse case, Shepard signed paperwork in which she admitted that she and two others knowingly and intentionally caused serious bodily injury to a vulnerable adult in a manner that could cause death.
In the manslaughter case, Shepard admitted that she engaged in conduct that recklessly caused the death of another.
The two others involved in the abuse case were the Beckerings, both of whom were previously found guilty at trial in Utah. Sherrie Beckering, 51, was sentenced in January to from five years to life in prison on a charge of aggravated abuse of a vulnerable adult. In February 2012, Dale Beckering, 53, was found guilty of a lesser charge of abuse of a vulnerable adult. He was sentenced to from one to 15 years in prison.
Harms, who was called Nina, graduated from Central in 2008 where she was a Special Olympics athlete. She suffered from fetal alcohol syndrome.