A Walworth County woman sentenced to prison three years ago for child abuse has lost her request for a new trial, according to an April 24 decision by the state District 2 Court of Appeals.
Carrie M. Donahue, 42, had requested a new trial, claiming her defense lawyer had been ineffective. She and her husband, Michael G. Donahue, were convicted in March 2016 of abusing a boy who came to live with the couple after being abused elsewhere.
The same appeals court denied Michael’s request for a new trial in September. The appeals court is based in Waukesha and covers Walworth County.
Michael had made a similar argument as his wife—ineffective counsel—in his bid for a new trial.
The Genoa City couple was found guilty of party to false imprisonment, mental harm to a child and child neglect. Carrie also was found guilty of child abuse by intentionally causing harm, a charge of which Michael was acquitted, as previously reported by The Gazette.
In July 2016, Carrie was sentenced to six years prison plus four years extended supervision. Michael received four years prison plus three years of supervision.
The boy lived with the Donahues in 2013 after being abused by his mother and her boyfriend.
Prosecutors said the Donahues locked the boy in his bedroom for up to 12 hours at a time, failed to feed him and forced him to urinate in his room and in his clothes. The couple said the boy had behavioral issues from his previous abuse, making him difficult to parent, as previously reported by The Gazette.
In her appeal, Carrie questioned if the lack of a jury unanimity instruction on her child abuse charge could have led to a conviction even if the jury wasn’t unanimous. The appeals court denied this claim, saying the jury was “generally instructed” that everyone had to agree on the verdict, according to the decision.
Carrie also claimed there was irrelevant testimony from a contractor who worked on the couple’s previous residence. The contractor testified the child’s bedroom door had a lock installed that could lock the door from outside the room.
The contractor also testified the room smelled like urine and had feces smeared on the walls, according to the decision.
The appeals court ruled the contractor’s testimony was relevant to the case because of other testimony that the lock was installed in a conventional way. The contractor’s testimony about the bedroom’s condition was also relevant to claims of neglect, the decision states.
Carrie’s third and final claim for a new trial centered on whether there was sufficient evidence to convict her of child abuse. Carrie was accused of slapping the child in October 2013 and causing a lip injury, according to the decision.
Contradictory testimony from witnesses called into question whether the child had actually suffered the injury.
A child protective services social worker saw the child in a hospital emergency room and noticed a split, swollen lip. The child had told investigators Carrie slapped him in the mouth.
Meanwhile, a physician who examined the child the following day did not observe a lip injury.
The appeals court ruled that it is up to the jury to weigh contradictory evidence. The record contained evidence Carrie struck the child and caused injury, which gave the jury sufficient reason to convict her of physical abuse, according to the decision.