The young granddaughter who died in Oak Ridge in 2011 was malnourished and had been smothered, District Attorney General Dave Clark said Friday, after the child’s grandmother pleaded guilty to second-degree murder last Tuesday.
Emergency workers and law enforcement officers responded to a 911 call at Teller Village Apartments around 1:30 p.m. Monday, April 11, 2011. The grandmother, Valerie Stenson, now 54, was trying to revive her granddaughter, Manhattan Inman, using cardiopulmonary resuscitation, or CPR, Clark said in a press release Friday.
“An autopsy reveled that the child was malnourished, and the cause of death was smothering,” said Clark, who is DA in the Seventh Judicial District (Anderson County).
Manhattan was two years and nine months old when she died, Clark said.
Stenson pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and aggravated child abuse in Anderson County Criminal Court in Clinton on Tuesday, May 7. She was sentenced to 30 years in prison. She was ordered to serve 100 percent of her sentence. Prosecutors expect her to serve the rest of her life in prison.
“We are pleased that Manhattan can rest now that justice has been done,” Clark said Friday. “This was a very emotional case for the Oak Ridge Police Department’s officers that worked it and the assistants in my office who prosecuted it.”
Stenson had been charged with first-degree murder, and prosecutors had once sought the death penalty. But the death penalty was withdrawn in March 2018. Prosecutors cited mental health issues, expense, and the strain put on the local court system in death penalty cases.
The first-degree murder charge was reduced to second-degree murder as part of the plea deal. Stenson had faced other child abuse and child neglect charges, but those charges were dismissed as part of the plea deal.
Before she pleaded guilty last week, a trial had been scheduled for Stenson for May 14-16.
Anderson County court records show three previous trials had been scheduled for Stenson but then canceled or rescheduled. In the most recent case, Oak Ridge Today reported in January 2018 that a two-week trial for Stenson had been scheduled for December 2017, but it was canceled and a mental health evaluation was ordered. At that time, Oak Ridge Today reported that Stenson had previously been evaluated by State of Tennessee experts and determined to be competent to stand trial and to help with her defense.
On Friday, Clark expressed concern for the length of time it took to resolve the case.
“We all want these cases to move much more quickly,” Clark said. “However, when dealing with a case such as this that had several legal and evidentiary issues to overcome, we are pleased with the result. We anticipate this sentence keeping the defendant in prison for the rest of her life. I want to thank the Oak Ridge Police Department, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, and Deputy District Attorney Tony Craighead for their diligent work on this case to achieve this result for Manhattan.”
Craighead was the prosecutor in the case. Thomas Slaughter was the defense attorney. Court records also list a co-counsel for Stenson, R. Alexander Brown. Donald R. Elledge was the judge in Anderson County Criminal Court.
More information will be added as it becomes available.
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