PARIS — A former local woman pleaded guilty Tuesday in Oxford County Superior Court to beating a 5-year-old girl with her hands and a hairbrush in 2011.
Tabitha Whalen, 24, of Portland, pleaded guilty to one charge of assault, Class C, for assaulting the daughter of her ex-boyfriend. She received a three-year deferred disposition in exchange for her plea.
If Whalen stays out of trouble and completes therapy with a mental health professional, the charges will be dropped from her record in three years. If she breaks the law or her disposition conditions before then, the deal is off and she could face up to five years in prison and a $5,000 fine.
Assistant District Attorney Richard Beauchesne said that if the case went to trial, a teacher would testify that on the first day of school the girl wore makeup to cover bruises on her face.
The teacher called police. More bruises were found on the girl's back. The girl told police that Whalen had hit her with her hands and with a hairbrush, Beauchesne said.
The girl's father, John McAlister, asked for a tougher sentence for Whalen.
“She took something from my daughter that can't be given back,” he told the court. He expressed frustration that it took more than a year for Whalen's plea.
Whalen's attorney, Christopher Berryment, said his client had a history of mental health problems and post-traumatic stress disorder stemming from incidents in her own childhood.
Beauchesne said he was concerned about the victim's ability to testify at a trial and the effect it would have on her to do so. He said the three-year deferred disposition is longer than average and the counseling conditions will ensure she gets help. Getting her help, he said, is “in society's best interest.”
"I think it's important to get Ms. Whalen to the point, psychologically, where she won't do it again," Beauchesne said.
Beauchesne said that if Whalen violates her conditions, the state could ask for the maximum sentence for the offense. Assaulting a child under age 6 is a felony.