Donald Scarlett guilty of killing toddler but system deserves blame, too, judge says
Unfortunately, instances of child abuse resulting in death happen far too frequently -- especially considering that "once" qualifies as "far too frequently." As a result, the sentencing of Donald Scarlett to more than four decades behind bars for the killing of 22-month-old Michael Harris was expected to be fairly routine. But no: The case took on more symbolic importance when Chris Melonakis, the judge in the case, not only ripped into Scarlett, but also decried the child welfare system in general for not preventing the tragedy.
Big photos, videos below.
Michael Harris's sad end was chronicled as part of October's "Failed to Death," one of the best and most passionate reports to appear in the Denver Post over the past year or so.
According to the Colorado Department of Human Services report on the incident (read it in its entirety below), the human services department in Adams County had an open case on Michael dated to May 2010. Why? Roseanna Key, the boy's mother, was said to smoke marijuana and her parents, who cared for the toddler and his three-year-old brother, used meth, drank alcohol and kept "a dirty home" rife with "domestic violence" at which the kids were "often neglected."
As such, the two children were placed in foster care for six months while Key engaged in "therapy, parenting classes, [a] psycho-sexual education group, [and] substance abuse treatment," as well as securing independent housing and employment. The kids were returned to her in December 2010, shortly after she'd begun her relationship with Scarlett.
Mere months later, on February 1, 2011, the department was contacted by the Brighton Police Department after Scarlett, Key's boyfriend, phoned 911 to report that Michael was not breathing. The boy was rushed to a hospital, where doctors discovered the boy had "a skull fracture, bruising in his left ear and behind the ear, bruising on his forehead, a large knot on his forehead, bruising or scrapes around the neck, and bruising on his chest and hand."
Roseanna Key's mug shot.
Other wounds: "a kidney injury, lacerated spleen, lacerated pancreas, occipital skull fracture, shot bowel and swelling on the skull." Understandably, and horrifically, he subsequently died.
What were the circumstances of the fatal beating? The Post reports that Key stood outside a door listening to Michael crying and screaming as Scarlett beat him until all noises ceased. She didn't check on him that night, and left him with Scarlett as caretaker when she went to work the next day.
Continue for more about the death of Michael Harris, including photos, a document and multiple videos.