Thursday, December 30, 2010

The Tragic Life of Kelsey Smith-Briggs


No matter what the circumstances, it is a tragic event when a 2 year old dies.  It's even worse when the child is murdered. Kelsey Smith-Briggs lost her life on October 11, 2005 at her home near Meeker, Oklahoma.

This death troubles me more than usual because of the many problems and questions that hang in the air more than five years later. My first concern is that the people hired by the state to look after the best interests of the children of Oklahoma, clearly did not perform their duty. No question about that since a judge awarded Kelsey's father more than half-a-million dollars because of their dereliction of duty.

There was no doubt in anyone's mind that Kelsey was being abused. The question was, by whom?  Her stepfather,  her father, her stepmother, her mother, her grandmothers? Did it all happen in one household or in multiple homes? The poor little girl suffered two broken legs and a broken collar bone in the year leading up to her death. 

Family members on both sides pointed the finger of blame at one another. The animosity between the two sides had escalated since Lance Briggs and Raye Dawn Smith had divorced before Kelsey was born. The Oklahoma Department of Human Services and Judge Craig Key could not sort out all the claims and counter-claims but transferred custody several times with varying of levels of visitation to the various parties. They never completely removed her from the situation where she was clearly in danger or reported her injuries to law enforcement.

Initially, the state charged stepfather Mike Porter (right) with first degree murder. Later, they added a charge of child sexual abuse. It all fit together.  The reports of suspicions injuries to Kelsey began at the same time that Porter entered her life. Prosecutors claimed that she died after Porter delivered a hard blow to her abdomen. Her mother Raye Dawn Smith was under suspicion but continued to cooperate with police, wanted an autopsy--although Porter objected--and hired a private investigator to look into her daughter's murder. 

At first, child neglect charges were expected to be filed against Raye Dawn. Filing a neglect complaint seemed reasonable to me. In another case, I felt that Rusty Yates should have been charged with child neglect when his wife Andrea drowned all five of their children. But he was not. 

This apparent legal bias baffles and disturbs me. Men are traditionally seen as the protectors of their families and, yet, fathers never seem to be held accountable when they do not fulfill that role. On the other hand, mothers are often charged with a crime for not protecting their child. The legal system does not place equal responsibility on both parents. A man is assumed free of blame while a woman is assumed guilty unless she loses her own life protecting her child.

Four months after the toddler's death, the state brought two charges against Raye Dawn (left): child neglect and enabling child abuse. But who committed the abuse? It seems logical to me that if you can determine who killed the little girl, it should lead you directly to the person responsible for her abuse. But no one has ever been convicted of Kelsey's murder; the state of Oklahoma has held no one responsible. 

The only person who testified that he witnessed multiple incidents of Kelsey's mother abusing her daughter--Mike Porter, the same person the state charged with murder. The prosecutor told the jurors that they knew Porter was responsible for the sexual abuse and murder of Kelsey but still he made a deal with the devil. Did they really think that an individual who sexually molested and murdered a 2-year-old child would tell the truth? Did they not realize he would lie to save himself?

Apparently. they did but didn't care. They made an offer: They'd drop the murder charge and give him a 30-year sentence if he would plead guilty to enabling child abuse and testify against Raye Dawn. Prosecutors allowed him to lie on the stand about his own involvement in the child's death, contradicting, in their closing arguments, his testimony. Aside from his testimony and the anecdote revealed by a suspiciously last-minute addition to the witness list, there was no evidence that Raye Dawn was the person who abused Kelsey. There was innuendo. There was circumstantial evidence.  But one thing was clear: Raye Dawn was not present when her daughter died.

The identical charge they placed against Raye Dawn was enabling child abuse. She was found guilty got a twenty-seven-year sentence.  Was there any proof that she was aware that Mike Porter abused her child? No. Even the Meeker police put the broken collarbone down as an accident. And the Department of Human Services report indicated that the broken legs were either caused by Raye Dawn or by Lance's parents. The judge ruled that there was no way to know who had committed the abuse.


The emotionally overwrought trial of Raye Dawn was filled with unanswered questions. If Raye Dawn is guilty only of sins of omission in not protecting her daughter, she has served enough time. If Mike Porter did, as the evidence indicates, sexually assault and murder the toddler, he should man-up and tell the truth for Kelsey's sake--to give that poor child a measure of justice denied to her by the courts and the prosecution. I don't see that happening. Parents in Oklahoma can only hope he doesn't live long enough to walk out of prison a free man.

This case has become such a tangle, it is impossible to be certain of much. Two things, in my mind, are without dispute: The system failed Kelsey when it did not protect from abuse and murder, and they failed her again when they denied her the justice of convicting her killer of murder.

When the Casey Anthony trial begins next year, you'll find daily updates of the case on Diane Fanning's blog, Writing is a Crime.



22 comments:

marybowman said...
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marybowman said...
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katherine scardino said...

Good post, Diane. This case reminds me of a pending case I have - I represent the mother who was not present when the child was fatally injured, but was charged with Injury to a Child by Omission and then, subsequently, murder even though the 5 year old said the father did it. Amazing. It is clear to me that mothers are definitely held to a higher burden than fathers.
katherine scardino

Diane Fanning said...

Thank you, Katherine. I look forward to the day where neither gender, race or the size of a bank account impact the distort the course of justice.

Tracy (PI) said...

Beautifully written piece Diane.
In regard to Rusty Yates, I agree!

It is a sad fact that often mothers do not know of the abuse of their child until there is a death...or in the case of most sexual molestations, when the child speaks out. Then the mother will either get help...or she will go into denial because 'Mr Wonderful' wouldn't dare do that.

I can't wait for the day when those staring down the barrel of a gun aren't offered sweeteners to testify against another person.

Sue said...

This case sounds as though it involved outrageous misjudgment, Diane. If Raye wasn't present when the child died, and the prosecutors knew that, what on earth would possess them to drop the murder charges against their actual murder suspect to step up charges against the mother they knew didn't kill her baby (and whom they could never convict of doing so)?

(Of course they did get him a 30-year sentence so it's not like he walked, but why drop that charge against him?)

What a tragic mess.

The whole issue of mothers being held to a higher standard of responsibility than men for protecting children goes way back, of course. And when women fail to live up to society's expectations of fiercely protective mothers/madonnas, or even of traditional femininity itself, it is not uncommon for them to be judged more harshly. That certainly seems to be the case here.

I don't know the details of this case. Was there evidence of the mother systematically allowing her child to be subjected to the abuse that led to her death (with or without participating in the abuse)? If not, I am totally mystified. The sentence is a shocker either way. A double standard indeed.

Diane Fanning said...

Tracy and Sue,
There is a lot a questions about this case that remain very elusive. I think, in part, because it became such a political football. A judge lost re-election because of it. When politics enters the equation, the truth gets buried in hyperbole.
And when the truth remains hidden, justice cannot be well served.

Diane Fanning said...

Point of clarification:
I have received email regarding the two deleted messages immediately following this post. The message reads "This post has been removed by the author." Some of you have read that and assumed that "the author" was me.
But, the meaning of this automatic notation is that the author of the comment has herself deleted her comment. I never saw either one of them before she did so.

DrGina said...

Good, well-written post Diane. So sad. Many of these child abuse cases are difficult to investigate because often all parents and/or step-parents, engage in volatile, aggressive behavior. The child gets caught in this volatile system and becomes the target for the abuse. As you said, this child should have been removed from the sick family system.

Diane Fanning said...

Amen, Gina. The goal of family reunification has shattered the lives of many children. Some states have changed to a standard of "the best interests of the child." I wish they all would.

Anonymous said...

I'm curious as to whether Raye's conviction and or sentence, is being appealed. Surely the Supreme Court of the United States would overturn the original verdict due to the glaring faults in law and subsequent unsafe ruling of guilt perscribed to the mother Raye.

Diane Fanning said...

Anonymous,
She was denied an appeal on the state level in October. The appeal is continuing on the federal level.

Shonya Kay said...

Hello Diane,

I have researched this case thoroughly since June 2007.

This is what I have learned through years of Research into this Tragedy:


January 2005,

Kelsey was discovered to have various bruises and abrasions all over her buttocks and thighs. Kelsey was confirmed to be injured as a result of abuse. Raye was documented to be Kelsey's abuser per DHS due to the conflicting stories Raye gave to DHS regarding Kelsey's injuries.


January 24th, 2005

Royce and Kathie Briggs (Kelsey's Paternal Grandparents) were given temporary emergency custody of Kelsey.


February 2005,

Raye was given supervised visitation with Kelsey. No injuries were documented.


March 11th, 2005

Raye was given UN-supervised visitation with Kelsey and was court ordered to keep Kelsey away from Michael Lee Porter while she had her visitation with Kelsey. Raye and Kathie split custody at this time. Raye Dawn Smith had Kelsey more hours out of the week than Kathie Briggs did.
Kelsey began to lose her hair and she began being injured while in Raye's custody.

continued.....

Shonya Kay said...

continued....



April 13th, 2005

Kelsey had been with her stepfather Michael Porter (Against the court order still in Place since March 11th, 2005) and her mother Raye Dawn Smith for 2 days prior to April 13th, 2005. On this night Miste Smith (Raye's sister-in-law) heard Kelsey make a comment about her foot.


April 14th, 2005

Miste Smith went to Raye's in the morning to pick Kelsey up to take her to the zoo. Miste asked Kelsey about her foot but Kelsey was ready to go to the zoo. While at the zoo Miste noticed Kelsey refused to walk. Miste called Raye at work and told her, "She doesn't want to walk on THAT FOOT." Raye told Miste to come pick her up from her work so they could take Kelsey to get her injury documented because Raye was supposed to exchange Kelsey to Kathie that evening. Dr. Sullivan, an OU pediatric orthopedic specialist testified at Raye Dawn Smith's trial that Kelsey's right leg break happened when she first complained about it and/or first presented with pain. Miste and Raye took Kelsey to the doctor where they told him Kelsey tripped on her flip flops and twisted her ankle.
At Raye Dawn Smith's Trial, Miste Smith testified that while at the zoo, Kelsey's ankle twisted while she was wearing her platform flip flops.
Based on the story they gave the doctor he only x-rayed Kelsey's right ankle. He diagnosed her with a sprain. Dr. Sullivan testified that Kelsey's right leg was already broken when she was taken to the doctor that day due to the pain and her refusal to walk.
The doctor gave them a doctor's note that said, "Rest Right foot, walk as tolerated." Early that evening, Miste Smith, Raye Dawn Smith and Raye's cousin Sarah Winter took Kelsey to the ballfield to drop Kelsey off with Kathie. Raye gave Kathie the Doctor's note. Miste, Sarah and Kathie testified that Raye told Kathie to, "MAKE KELSEY WALK!"
Kathie and Ashley Briggs (Kelsey's stepmother at the time) took Kelsey home and noticed bruising on her. They were told to call the DHS hotline if they observed any injuries on Kelsey. They told the DHS worker about the bruises and the sprained ankle. The worker told them to keep Kelsey overnight. They told them to tell Raye to bring Kelsey to the DHS office in the morning.
Raye came to pick Kelsey up later that night but they informed her of what the DHS worker told them and Raye left without Kelsey.



continued.....

Shonya Kay said...

continued....


April 15th, 2005

Miste and Raye came to pick Kelsey up in the morning and they took her to the DHS office.


April 15th - April 18th, 2005

During this time Kelsey was with Raye, Mike Porter and Smith family members.
Dr.Sullivan testified at Raye Dawn Smith's trial that Kelsey's left leg was broken April 15th - April 18th, 2005 based on the healing of the bone's callous.


April 18th, 2005

Raye Dawn Smith married Michael Lee Porter. Kelsey was standing in a picture taken with them but there was no photographic evidence that she was "walking" at that time. Porter was still under a court order to be kept away from Kelsey. Yet Raye continually violated that order.


April 18th - April 21st, 2005

It had only been 4 days since Kelsey was diagnosed with a sprained ankle.
Raye brought Kelsey over to Kathie's for her visitation. Kathie testified that Kelsey was like a baby just learning how to walk. Only walking occasionally from furniture to furniture. Kathie asked her grandchild's school nurse how long a sprain should last? She was told it depended on the type of sprain she had.


April 21st, 2005

Raye came to pick Kelsey up from Kathie's.


April 21st, 2005 - April 24th, 2005

Kelsey was with her mother and stepfather Mike Porter.



continued....

Shonya Kay said...

continued....


April 25th, 2005

4 Days later after Raye picked Kelsey up from Kathie's, Raye and her mother Gayla took Kelsey to the DHS office. Kelsey's legs were red, swollen and hot to the touch. Raye told the workers she picked Kelsey up from Kathie's in that same condition.
DHS told Raye to take Kelsey to the Hospital.
Dr. Kelli Koon's (Raye's custody attorney's sister) diagnosed Kelsey with two spiral leg breaks. Koon's took Raye's flip flop explanation to another doctor in the same clinic, Dr. Andrea Barrett. Dr. Barrett said the spiral leg breaks were consistent with the flip flop story.
She said the right leg is consistent with the zoo incident and the left leg is consistent with over compensation from the right leg break.
DHS called Kathie and asked her about Kelsey's legs. Kathie said, you mean her ankle? They informed Kathie that both of Kelsey's legs were broken.


End of April 2005

A member of Raye's family was concerned about Kelsey's broken legs saying that this was very unusual for a child. She recommended Dr. James Andy Sullivan a pediatric orthopedic specialist from OU Medical Center.


May 2nd, 2005

Dr. Sullivan examined Kelsey. Kathie did NOT mention prior abuse before he came back with his findings. Dr. Sullivan took Kelsey's x-rays to three other doctors at OU. (A combined total of 90 years experience) Two doctors determined the leg breaks were the result of abuse and the other doctor suspected the breaks were from abuse. DHS was informed that Kelsey had two spiral leg breaks from abuse.


May 3rd, 2005

Raye started pointing at Kathie and Kathie pointed back at Raye. Kelsey was taken out of Kathie's home so an investigation could be completed into the leg breaks and because DHS claimed Kathie violated the court order for Kelsey to be kept away from Porter because Kathie "suspected" Raye was allowing Porter around Kelsey. Raye began accusing Kathie Briggs and Kelsey's stepmother Ashley Briggs of abusing Kelsey. Kelsey was put into DHS custody.


May 4th, 2005

Kelsey begins staying with her maternal grandmother Gayla Smith.


continued....

Shonya Kay said...

continued....


May 2005

Kelsey begins having seizures. Kelsey's daycare provider says Kelsey will not eat. Kelsey becomes clingy towards her daycare provider.
During a supervised visit at DHS, Kelsey tells Raye, "Daddy Mike hurt my head." Raye laughs Kelsey's statement off.


June 2005

Judge Craig Key sends Kelsey home with two suspected perpetrators of Kelsey's abuse, Raye Dawn Smith and Michael Lee Porter.
He declares the perp of Kelsey's abuse is unknown.


July - August 2005

The agencies who were to look after Kelsey, visit her about once a week. They document several bruises and injuries on Kelsey in this two month period. The worker's are concerned but never do anything more than document them.


Beginning of September 2005

Raye comes into the bedroom and sees that Porter has taped Kelsey's eyes and mouth shut.
Raye never tells DHS about this incident. Instead she tells DHS that Kelsey's eye is blistered from her washing Kelsey's hair with adult shampoo, Kelsey getting shampoo in her eyes and rubbing the skin around her eyes raw with a towel. Prosecutors believe the shampoo story was a cover to explain the injury Porter caused by putting tape on Kelsey's eyes.
Kelsey begans to exhibit behavior with Porter that Raye notices.


continued....

Shonya Kay said...

continued....


September 2005

According to Raye, Kelsey was the only child in the home to throw up when Raye left. Kelsey would Kick her pants off when Porter picked her up. While driving in the car Porter told Raye, "all you care about is that THING in the back." (Referring to Kelsey)


End of September/Early October 2005

According to her second OSBI interview Raye suspected Porter of mistreating Kelsey when he told her that Kelsey fell down the stairs. Raye didn't believe him! Raye told her mother about her concerns and her mother said they should start to "watch him." (Referring to Porter)


October 11th, 2005

Kelsey is killed by her stepfather and/or mother. Her killer is still undetermined.


Summary:

Porter was charged with murder and his charge was later amended to add a count of sexual abuse. Porter plead guilty to enabling child abuse. He will serve 25 years before he is eligible for parole. Raye was charged with enabling child abuse and child neglect.
Raye was convicted in a trial for enabling child abuse. She will serve 23 years before she is eligible for parole.
A hearing was held Septmeber 1st, 2010 about alleged jury misconduct during Raye's trial. The judge heard from 12 witnesses.
October 8th, The judge reported Smith failed to establish that the juror engaged in misconduct.
The conclusion by Kay County District Judge D.W. Boyd is not the final say in the appeal. The Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals now will review the judge's fact findings and legal conclusions. It then will decide whether to uphold Smith's conviction or order a new trial.




http://thetruth4kelsey.blogspot.com/

Diane Fanning said...

Thank you for taking the time to post all of this, Shonya Kay

Anonymous said...

You are very welcome Diane.

What Kelsey suffered through was senseless. Many people failed her!

The only comfort there is in this tragedy is to know that Kelsey no longer suffers.

I am a fan of yours and I am a friend of yours on Facebook. Feel free to message me anytime.

I also have a channel on Youtube here:
http://www.youtube.com/user/shonyakay

I share stories of and tributes to children like Kelsey who have been abused/murdered.

Here is one of several videos I have done for Kelsey:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lvowyhpdNH0


Stay Blessed,
Shonya Kay

marybowman said...

Diane, the only suffering anyone sees in photos of Raye Dawn Smith is because she is behind bars. There is no worry or pain for the death of her little girl. There is only worry and pain for her lack of freedom. Raye Dawn Smith only worries about Raye Dawn Smith.

Panthea said...

I have gone through the documentation, court transcripts and find the answers are there the only missing part would be who exactly delivered those tragic blows but looking at the case load at a whole this points to the monster known then as MikeP. It's a very tragic outcome this poor baby never stood a chance as Raye as the court itself points out doesn't acknowledge any part of her child's suffering whereby they sentenced her the full 27 years. There was a reason to this it was definetely not because of a biased unjust court as Raye wants people to beleive - even after Kelsey's passing Raye stated under interrogation she did not beleive the coroners findings and that MikeP could never have harmed Kelsey... think about that, she is still denying albeit the baby is dead and a clear autopsy report is presented to her! This is why Raye is in jail, poor Kelsey's suffered terribly she didn't see that and even after her passing she still didn't want to see or beleive, this of course implicates herself but more importantly sums up her own guilt. A normal innocent person would have been suspicious towards everyone, she covered up, a normal caring person would at least after the child's passing with the autopsy result in his hand for sure put 2and2 together but not Raye.. she is covering up of course and my heart goes out to this child as this implicates the mother more involved in the child's suffering. She is unfit to be a mother and belongs in jail no doubt but more focus needs to be put on MikeP he will one day walk this earth as a free man again with a new id with no sex offender or murder registration to his name, would you want him in your community...? These people are very hard to cure it is nearly impossible, this case needs to be followed up on and MikeP needs to be in a normal prison where everyone knows what he has done so he receives that bottom lowlife treatment from other inmates he deserves that coward and he should definetely not have the royal considerate treatment he is receiving now!