A former day care worker facing a retrial for the 1997 slaying of a 14-month-old girl has entered a plea to second-degree murder.
Alica Wegner, 44, agreed to plead guilty in the slaying of Kierra Harrison, who died on March 5, 1997 from massive head trauma. Wegner, who had cared for Kierra two days before she died, was blamed in the killing.
“For her family’s sake, she needed some closure,” her attorney, Robert Langford, said Friday. “The risk of going to trial, being convicted and then going through the appellate process would place too great a strain on them.”
Wegner, who has always maintained her innocence, entered what’s known as an Alford plea on Thursday. This type of plea means she doesn’t admit wrongdoing but that prosecutors have enough evidence to prove their case. She was scheduled to go to trial at the end of July.
As part of the plea, she agreed to be sentenced to either 10 years to life in prison or 10 to 25 years in prison, Langford said.
Kierra’s grandmother, Pamela Rowse, said she was surprised to learn from authorities that Wegner entered a plea.
“We’re just glad she took it,” she said. “We’re now well on our way to finding a modicum of closure.”
Wegner, who is currently free on bail, has always maintained her innocence. She is set to surrender on July 24 to authorities. She is scheduled to be sentenced on Sept. 10.
Wegner was convicted in 1998 of killing Kierra and sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole after 20 years.
But the Nevada Supreme Court overturned the conviction in 2000 and granted her a new trial.
Justices objected to jury instructions stating that a killing by child abuse is first-degree murder regardless of whether the killing was intentional.
They also ruled that the judge should have granted a defense request that jurors be permitted to consider a lesser charge of involuntary manslaughter.
Wegner has already served three years in prison, so she could be eligible for parole after seven years.
During Wegner’s first trial, experts gave differing testimony about Kierra’s death.
Several experts told the jury that Kierra’s injuries would have occurred while she was in Wegner’s home.
But another testified that he suspected Kierra got hurt the week before she died and the fracture hadn’t healed. Then she got hurt again at Wegner’s home, causing the initial injury to worsen, the expert testified. The injury at Wegner’s home could have been caused by a minor fall, the expert said.
Langford said Wegner has suffered health problems. But she’ll likely get the care she needs and will be living under a lot less stress than she currently is, he said.
After Kierra’s death, Rowse founded the Kierra Harrison Foundation (www.kierraharrison.com), a non-profit dedicated to bringing awareness to shaken baby syndrome and other child safety issues.
Rowse said Wegner’s plea will help bring an end to the criminal case but not to her cause.
“We’ll continue to keep Kierra’ memory alive and work with the foundation and all aspects of child abuse and safety,” she said.
Contact reporter David Kihara at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-380-1039.