Does an illness that affects a mother’s mind and body make an unforgivable crime somewhat forgivable, even when a child dies?
District Judge Douglas Herndon will have to wrestle with that question when he sentences Colleen Rimer on July 21 for her role in the death of her 4-year-old disabled son, Jason.
Her pre-sentencing report wasn’t finished on Tuesday, so Herndon delayed her sentencing. But he went forward with her husband’s, rejecting out-of-hand Stanley Rimer’s pleas for probation.
That kind of leniency would have been a travesty. Rimer received eight to 30 years from a judge who couldn’t control his fury that Rimer refused to accept any responsibility for Jason’s horrific death.
Jason was forgotten in the family’s SUV for 17 hours and died a ghastly death from heat stress on a hot summer day in 2008. The boy was so severely disabled, he wasn’t able to unlock the car door to save himself.
Rimer was convicted of manslaughter, and child neglect and abuse. He thought parenting duties were the exclusive job of his wife of 25 years. His daughter never saw him change Jason’s diaper, no matter now foul it was. That was women’s work in his patriarchy.
Nobody ever claimed that the Rimers deliberately murdered Jason, who, like his mother, had myotonic dystrophy . The disease is rare and difficult to diagnose and can affect many of the body’s systems, from muscle to brain.
During trial, one doctor said with this disease, Colleen Rimer wakes up in the morning feeling she has already worked eight hours.
More information is available from the Myotonic Dystrophy Foundation at www.myotonic.org.
Out of Colleen Rimer’s eight children with her husband, two were diagnosed with disabilities.
Ernest Rimer, Stanley Rimer’s oldest son from another marriage and who was abandoned by his father, wrote to the judge saying when he first visited the Rimers in 2003, the couple "locked themselves in their room upstairs and simply let the kids exist downstairs, like dogs in a kennel." He vividly described the filth, Jason smelling so bad that Ernest couldn’t stand to hold him, and the tragedy of the other children who didn’t know they needed to bathe and wash their clothes.
The family’s home was infested with lice and filthy with animal and human feces. The parents ate better than their children, keeping their food upstairs in their bedroom and letting the children scrounge for themselves downstairs.
Ernest Rimer told the judge to give his father the maximum of 45 years but wrote: "Please spare Colleen."
Her defense attorney, Mike Sanft, is doubtful she will get probation, though it’s clear that she was overwhelmed by her maternal duties and wasn’t up to the job of caring for a control-freak of a husband and eight children. "I doubt if the judge will depart that much from Stanley’s sentence," he said.
But, he predicted: "If she’s given the opportunity to get out, without the shadow of Stan Rimer to be around, she can succeed."
Both parents voluntarily surrendered their parental rights, and the younger children are in the care of Colleen’s parents in Idaho.
"Colleen tried to do her best with what she had," Sanft said "That day, she relied on a family system that most of us would not agree to. She relied on the older children to take care of the younger children."
When the other children, the ailing father and Colleen didn’t notice that Jason was missing, the result was deadly — a death that has destroyed a family and enraged a community.
Colleen Rimer has spent more than 600 days in jail. How much more time is the right amount to achieve justice for Jason?
Jane Ann Morrison’s column appears Monday, Thursday and Saturday. Email her at Jane@reviewjournal.com or call her at (702) 383-0275. She also blogs at lvrj.com/blogs/Morrison