Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Crimes Against Children Don’t Happen Only in Florida

Guest Entry by CaliGirl9!

While we all have been transfixed at the horror that is the Caylee Anthony case, last month in Hollister, a small Central/Northern California town, 39-year old dog groomer Cheryl Busch shot her 19-month old daughter Donna May Busch in the head and chest with an unregistered .357 Magnum handgun while the toddler was in her playpen.

San Benito County Sheriff Curtis Hill claimed, “In my 32 years in the county, I don’t recall a mother ever killing her child.”

Cheryl Busch, who is said to be visually impaired to the point of legal blindness, was charged with first-degree homicide on November 21. Donna May, who was Cheryl’s only child, was one day shy of her 19-month birthday when she was killed on November 19. Busch was also charged with felony corporal injury to a spouse, and also special allegations related to the child's death for intentionally discharging a firearm and also firing a weapon to cause great bodily harm. If convicted, Cheryl Busch could face a sentence of 75 years to life. The death penalty is not on the table in any way, shape or form. Child homicide is not a capital offense on its own in California. (Thank California’s liberal worried-about-criminal’s-rights senate for that. Three years ago, SB 817 sought to do just that. The bill died on the senate floor.)

Sadly, this was not the first time that San Benito County deputies were aware of problems at the Shore Road property.

On November 24, 2007, Cheryl Busch was arrested for a domestic violence/misdemeanor battery against her husband, John Dean Busch, and child abuse against 7-month-old Donna. Cheryl Bush threw a boot at her husband’s head during an argument, causing John Busch to fall forward while holding the baby. According to Brent Cardall, San Benito County’s chief probation officer, up until the day of Donna’s murder, Cheryl Busch had been in full compliance with her terms of probation. The child abuse charges were dropped, and she served 31 days in jail, paid a $650 fine, and was participating in a 52-week anger management class, along with three years of probation. As terms of probation, there were to be no guns in the home.

Although the November 2007 incident was the only one on in the court’s records, law enforcement were aware of ongoing problems in the household. According to Sheriff Hill, there was known “angst and disagreement between the parents.”

On November 19, John Busch made the initial call to the sheriff’s department on a regular line, not through 911. That call was made at 9:40 a.m., and a sheriff’s office employee noted he “thinks (his) wife shot their child.” Busch claimed his wife and child were in a grooming trailer on the property, and that he’d already removed the gun from his wife’s possession.

Eventually Cheryl Busch took the phone and admitted she’d shot her daughter.

John Busch, a bodybuilder, was initially arrested along with Cheryl but was released later that day. Cheryl Busch remains in one of two mental health cells in the San Benito County jail on suicide watch. Her bail is set at $1 million.

On December 10, San Benito County Deputy District Attorney Anna Marie Padilla requested, and was granted, a no-contact protective order between Cheryl and John Busch. Cheryl Busch must stay 100 yards away from her estranged husband (this is the first time John Busch has been described as being estranged from Cheryl), which should be easy as she’s not leaving the confines of jail anytime soon. The preliminary hearing will be held on January 14, 2009.

No doubt there will be some sort of mental illness defense, but the cause is NOT likely to be postpartum depression or psychosis, given that Donna May was well over one year old.

What do you think? Could Donna May have been saved? I am sure that more will come to light as this case winds its way through the court system. Did the extended family worry about Donna’s safety? I am betting that among business to be taken care of in January’s court date will be a request for a change of venue. San Benito County is a very rural county, sandwiched in between Monterey and Santa Clara counties. (San Benito County itself is so small, baby Donna’s autopsy was conducted in nearby Salinas in Monterey County.) Hollister itself is a bedroom community; many residents make the short drive north to nearby Silicon Valley for work. The county’s population is under 54,000 residents, with three-fifths of the population residing in Hollister, which is also the county seat. Santa Clara County has a population of 1.8 million; Monterey County a population of 410,000.

My bet is this lands in Santa Clara County, unless it’s plead out.

Accused child killer banned from contact with husband

Sheriff continues assistance to DA in child murder case

Report sheds light on suspected child killer's prior conviction

Updated: 911 transcript details call to authorities

Child murder absent from list for capital offenses

Probation chief baffled, says Busch had complied fully

Sheriff: 'Nothing new I can share' on mother's motive

Gun used to kill child was absent from tracking system

Suspected child killer charged; plea expected today


ritanita said...

I've followed this case in the background and I thank you for such a well-organized summary of the situation.

Again, we have a child who wasn't protected from an unstable mother. Families don't seem to want to "interfere" with custodial rights until it is too late. In this case, there was a father who put up with physical abuse against himself and the child and probably never considered leaving and getting custody.

Having been legally blind myself without glasses, I can tell you that she could see enough to have a good life, if she wanted it. Her legal blindness, unfortunately, did not diminish her ability to aim and fire that gun.

donchais said...

Great entry CaliGirl!

Thanks for the wealth of information.