DeJoynay Ferguson: Life sentence of daycare worker who smothered baby to relieve 'stress' upheld
The Delaware Supreme Court affirmed the life sentence of a daycare worker on Friday, August 5, after she pleaded guilty to murdering a four-month-old child. DeJoynay Ferguson was arrested in September 2019 and pleaded guilty in April 2021. According to the Delaware Supreme Court's decision on Friday, she appealed her life sentence by arguing that it was unfair.
“She contends that the sentencing judge sentenced her for the sole purpose of retribution; that he sentenced her with a closed mind; that he was unwilling to consider the mitigation evidence and arguments she presented; and that her sentence violates her right to due process,” the court wrote of Ferguson’s appeal. However, the state's apex court disagreed with Ferguson's complaints and upheld the sentence.
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The infant's death was explained by a three-judge panel:
In January 2019, at the age of 18, Ferguson began working at the Little People Child Development Center, a daycare facility in Bear, Delaware. At that time, Ferguson’s only experience in childcare was a three-month stint at another daycare in Delaware. Because of this lack of experience, Ferguson was initially hired as a teacher’s aide in the infant room. However, after she had been in that position for two months, the lead teacher who supervised Ferguson was terminated from employment, and Ferguson was left to handle the infant room alone with minimal experience or training.
Ferguson admitted during sentencing that she was "in way over my head" while working at the daycare, the court noted. “Unfortunately, she turned to abuse to maintain control of the infant room,” the court said. “Beginning in June 2019 and continuing through September 2019, video surveillance from the daycare shows Ferguson smothering three children on 28 different days, sometimes multiple times a day, and physically abusing two additional children. Ferguson’s conduct finally came to a head on September 5, 2019, when she suffocated I.T., a healthy four-month-old girl, to death.”
The state supreme court opinion also noted how the incident was captured on video and took place “less than three hours after” the child’s mother dropped her off at the facility. “Ferguson placed her hand over I.T.’s mouth and nose and suffocated her, causing her death,” the court continued. “Almost 30 minutes later, when Ferguson realized that I.T. was unresponsive, she began to perform CPR on her and eventually called for help. Ferguson was 19 years old at the time of the murder.”
Update on tragic story of baby dying at #daycare in Bear, #Delaware Thursday. Police have arrested 19yo Dejoynay Ferguson who works at the daycare. She’s accused of suffocating the 4-month-old baby girl. @6abc pic.twitter.com/nHB3StI3Dz— TaRhonda Thomas (@TaRhondaThomas) September 6, 2019
Ferguson told a forensic psychologist that she was stressed out by the sound of crying babies at the daycare facility, and that after putting the fatally wounded baby back in her crib, she felt “more relaxed . . . because she had been able to release her anger and resolve the source of stress." The defendant also told the authorities that “she changed her method of suffocation over time to make it more effective."
Ferguson was indicted by a grand jury on one count of murder by abuse or neglect in the first degree, 48 counts of child abuse in the first degree, and four counts of child abuse in the second degree. The charges were connected to five different minor victims. The defendant ultimately pleaded guilty to one count of murder by abuse or neglect in the first degree, six counts of child abuse in the first degree, and two counts of child abuse in the second degree. She agreed to plead guilty in exchange for other charges being dropped.
According to the court's opinion, the minimum possible sentence for all the counts to which Ferguson pleaded guilty was 27 years in prison, and the maximum was a life sentence. The sentencing judge chose the maximum, noting that the “smothering death occurred at the end of a pattern of smothering babies in order to get them to be still while changing their diapers.” The judge continued, “A sentence to a term of years would not fairly express the outrage of any society at the completely senseless killing of one of its infant children by someone entrusted to its care,” adding, "It is, therefore, the judgment of the Court that the sentence on the count of murder in the first degree by abuse or neglect should be a life sentence.” The judge was not convinced by Ferguson's attorneys who claimed she was an immature teenager who suffered from undiagnosed mental health issues.
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The state supreme court said its review of the sentence was limited, but that it fell within the limits set by state statute and the defendant did not contend her sentence was based on “inaccurate or unreliable facts.” The only appellate issue raised by Ferguson was whether the sentencing judge made his decision based on “a closed mind, vindictiveness, or bias.” The Delaware Supreme Court concluded that those issues did not happen in this case. “While it is clear that the judge was not persuaded by Ferguson’s mitigation evidence, on this record we cannot conclude that the judge ignored, or failed to consider, the mitigation evidence and argument she offered, or sentenced her with a closed, vindictive, or biased mind,” the three-judge panel declared, according to Law&Crime.