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Mother gets 99 years for beating, gluing daughter: Has the US had it with bad parents?

Elizabeth Escalona, a 23-year-old mother of five, was sentenced to 99 years in prison after severely beating her daughter and gluing the girl’s hands to a wall. The sentence is one sign that society – and the courts – are taking child abuse more seriously.

By Staff writer / October 13, 2012

Elizabeth Escalona breaks down as she responds to a line of questions in the sentencing phase of her trial, in Dallas. Escalona was sentenced Friday to 99 years in prison for beating her toddler and gluing the child's hands to a wall.

Tony Gutierrez/AP

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A 99-year prison sentence for a 23-year-old Dallas mother who admitted she had acted like a “monster” when gluing her daughter’s hands and beating her into a coma last year suggests that society and the courts are taking a harsher view of neglectful, abusive, and violent parents, experts say.

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The mom, Elizabeth Escalona, pleaded this week with the court for counseling and rehabilitation so she could one day have her five children returned to her. State Judge Larry Mitchell acknowledged evidence that Ms. Escalona had herself been abused as a child, but said that didn’t excuse her from beating her 2-year-old until she nearly died.

“For this you must be punished,” the judge said on Friday. The sentence for the felony injury to a child conviction will be appealed.

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The Dallas “super-gluing” abuse case joins a litany of recent media stories involving parents going to extreme lengths to punish children.

Those cases include the “good mom” in Alaska who was let off on probation in August after being arrested and tried for using hot sauce to punish an adopted son for lying. Last week, the parents of an emaciated 18-year-old Georgia boy were arrested after it became apparent he had spent so much of his life locked in a room that his two sisters didn’t know the color of his hair.

Also on Friday, a Detroit jury found a 32-year-old father of seven guilty of murder and child abuse for beating his toddler daughter to death with a stick wrapped in a towel after she had an accident, and then covering the crime up by claiming his child had disappeared after a carjacking.

There’s little evidence that incidence of child abuse as a whole is on the increase, though a recently released Yale University study showed a growing incidence of abuse involving children less than a
 year old.

But it’s clear to experts in the field that major abuse scandals involving institutions like Penn State University and the Catholic Church have brought more scrutiny of child abuse, which in turn is being reflected in how authorities and courts view parental conduct.

“There’s actually little relationship between sentence severity and deterrent effects, but what’s much more important is that people have a sense that if they engage in a certain kind of behavior they’re going to get caught and sanctioned,” says David Finkelhor, director of the Crimes against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire in Durham. “And in both cases of sexual and physical abuse, there’s been a big increase in the sense that this is something that could get [parents] into a lot of trouble.”

The week-long hearing in Dallas painted Ms. Escalona as a struggling mother of five who endured physical and sexual abuse both as a child and as an adult. But evidence also showed that she had been a gang member, had abused drugs and alcohol, and had lied to authorities who inquired into how the beating happened.

According to the girl’s siblings, Escalona, upset about potty training, hit her daughter, Jocelyn Cedillo, with a belt and dragged her around by her feet. She kicked the girl, struck her with a jug of milk, then used Super Glue to fasten the girl’s hands to a wall.

In testimony, Escalona claimed she didn’t know why she glued the girl’s hands. But she acknowledged the evidence. “I hit her, I kicked her constantly and she didn’t deserve that,” Escalona said of her attack, which Judge Mitchell said left the girl at “the edge of death.” The girl has since recovered fully.

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