Woman guilty in 3-year-old niece’s death is resentenced, freed; parents want answers

Nation and World News

BLUE SPRINGS, Mo. (WDAF) — A woman convicted of felony child abuse in connection with the 1990 death of a 3-year-old is out of prison, and the little girl’s parents want to know why.

In 1994, 37-year-old Jacquelyn de la Cruz was sentenced to two life sentences plus 67 years for the death of Brandi Gonzalez in what prosecutors called a heinous crime.

Three-year-old Brandi spent the week before her death at her great aunt’s home in Blue Springs, Missouri.

“You don’t think as a parent if you let your child go to someone that’s family that they are going to hurt their child so severely that it takes their life away from them,” said Brandi’s mother Morinda Gonzalez.

Court documents reveal De la Cruz hit Brandi on the head, punched her in the stomach, gave her alcohol and forced her to keep running and drinking. They also found burns on her buttocks and genitals.

Gonzalez said De la Cruz also forced her own children to heat water in the microwave and throw it on Brandi, who was locked in a dog cage in a cold garage.

De la Cruz was originally charged with murder, but the charge was dropped. De la Cruz was then convicted of 11 counts of felony child abuse, assault and child endangering.

“We were told by the parole board as long as she’s not admitting to what she did, she would not get out,” Gonzalez said.

De la Cruz had a parole hearing scheduled June 1.

“I emailed my statement to the parole board, but none of that mattered,” Gonzalez said.

What she didn’t know was De la Cruz went before a judge three days earlier and got a new sentence in a plea deal on just two of the counts. That sentence was 30 years, time served.

De la Cruz contended that she received ineffective counsel. In 2019, prosecutor Jean Peters Baker wrote in her response to a judge that she “prayed the Court deny the Motion to Vacate, Set Aside, or Correct Judgment and Sentence.”

Ultimately, prosecutors decided it would be difficult to retry the case 30 years later and agreed to the resentencing to preserve two of the convictions on the original 11 counts.

Prosecutors said they contacted the family, but both Brandi’s mother and father told WDAF they had no idea prosecutors agreed to a deal that led to De la Cruz’s release a week later. They also said they haven’t been able to track down any other family members who were notified prior to the hearing.

“It’s not fair to us, and it’s not fair to Brandi. My daughter was only 3 1/2 years old,” Gonzalez said.

Gonzalez said she wants the courts to make changes to their notification policies, but she also said she wants people to know what the woman now living in the Kansas City metro as Jacquelyn Barkley did.

“No one is going to know the whole facts of what this woman is capable of doing to a child,” she said.

A spokesperson for the Jackson County Prosecutor’s Office pointed out that a life sentence in Missouri only means 30 years and that the sentences were concurrent. De la Cruz could have been granted parole as early as June.

Her attorney said she pursued resentencing so she wouldn’t have to register as a sex offender, something the family was told she’d have to do if she ever got out. Missouri’s sex offender registry does not currently include De la Cruz.

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