Mother sentenced to 30 years for death of daughter

Latoya Smith, 35, of Norfolk, Virginia

In October of last year, Latoya Smith pleaded guilty to felony homicide and felony child abuse for the death of her 11-year-old daughter, Heaven in May 2018.  She faced a possible sentence of 50 years in prison.


According to the Virginian-Pilot, when medical examiners looked at Heaven's body, they found 23 of 24 ribs had been broken and were in various states of healing, and a broken arm.  Her brain evidently also showed evidence of a brain bleed and swelling from blunt force trauma, and her small intestine had burst.


Her hand, which Heaven couldn't move due to cerebral palsy, was still healing from severe burns which had required a several day stay in the hospital and skin grafts.


According to prosecutors, Heaven had additionally been starved for days at a time and fed only bread and water.  Needing braces to walk, she would be forced to stand against a wall or do squats as punishment.  When trying to describe what Heaven had endured in the days and months leading up to her death, the prosecutor reportedly described her ordeal as torture.


“This was a very slow, painful death,” prosecutor Jill Harris said.


On Friday, February 7th, she was sentenced.


Despite state sentencing guidelines calling for a sentence of between 13½ and 22½ years for Smith, the Judge told her that it wasn't enough.


“You put a man before your own child,” Circuit Judge Michelle Atkins said before sentencing her to five years more than her boyfriend, Demont Harris.


Smith was sentenced to 50 years in prison, 20 suspended.


In October of last year, Harris had pleaded guilty to the same charges as Smith.  He had been the one that actually administered the fatal blows to Heaven.  He was sentenced to 60 years in prison with 35 of those years being suspended.


Prosecutors point though, to the good that has resulted from this case in the form of Heaven's Law.


The law, which took effect on July 1, 2019, requires that social workers check for out of state abuse records when investigating allegations of abuse if a family has recently moved to the state.  According to the law, they can now check records back five years.


Had this law been in place, when child services was working to investigate the matter of Heaven's burned hand in February, they would have found 900 pages of documents in Ramsey County, Minnesota detailing abuse and Smith's loss of custody of her daughter for a time.


Additionally, there is a push for a nationwide "National Interstate Data Exchange System" for Department of Health and Human Services workers.


The other good news, according to prosecutors, is that Heaven's younger sisters have been doing well in foster care, and that they are in the process of being adopted by their foster parents.