On 4th May 2016 Kandyce Downer, a 34 year old mother of four, was jailed for life with a tariff of 18 years for the murder of a baby that she was the guardian of.
Keegan (originally called Shi-Anne) Downer was born on 9th March 2014. Her mother was a drug addict and not suitable to care for her. Kandyce Downer (related to Keegan through her former husband) had previously expressed an interesting in caring for Keegan’s sister and was asked by Social Services whether she would wish to care for Keegan. She said yes.
As a result, Keegan was placed with her in January 2015 under a Guardianship Order. She attended nursery until June and during this time, there were no problems.
Ms Downer discovered shortly afterwards that she was pregnant and was diagnosed with hypertension. She said that this caused her to effectively withdraw from the family, leaving the case for Keegan and the other children to her eldest son.
From then until the beginning of September, Keegan suffered a catastrophic set of injuries. This included fractures to both femurs, seven fractures to her ribs, repeated brain scarring, and more than 153 scars on her body.
These were all of different ages, and would have been evident to Ms Downer (and any other carers) over the previous months.
On 4th September Keegan was suffering the effects of the above as well as developing septicaemia, and was clearly ill. Notwithstanding that, Ms Downer left her on her own and went out with her other children.
That night Ms Downer’s daughter told her that Keegan was making funny noises, but was ignored. The next morning, Ms Downer removed Keegan’s mattress as she was worried that the old blood and food stains would incriminate her. She then, finally, called 999.
But it was too late. Keegan died later that day.
Ms Downer pleaded not guilty and had a trial, seemingly blaming her son for the murder and the injuries. The jury rejected this unanimously, and found her guilty of the murder.
The Judge’s Sentencing Remarks have been published (always a helpful thing).
The only sentence that could be passed was one of life imprisonment, but the real question for the Judge was what the tariff would be.
Here, the starting point was 15 years. The Judge identified the breach of trust, the inflicting of injuries over a number of months, and the vulnerability of Keegan, as being statutory aggravating features.
There were other aggravating features, including the concealment of evidence and the failure to seek medical treatment.
Some mitigating features were identified, not least her good character and that there was not an intention to kill, and Ms Downer was a good parent to her other children.
It was clear that the aggravating features outweighed the mitigating ones, and so a starting point of more than 15 years could be expected.
The Judge imposed 18 years. This is, if anything, lower than other Judges would have passed (we would have expected a tariff of about 20 years), but it would appear to be within the range of appropriate sentences. For that reason, we do not expect there to be an appeal from either side.