SAN DIEGO (CNS) - A Navy wife whose 2-year-old son was mauled to death by a dog while she was in a drunken stupor in their Tierrasanta home was sentenced Thursday to five years probation.
Valerie Grace Carlson, 30, was also ordered by Judge Laura Halgren to complete a one-year jail term. Between time served and good behavior credits, she has already spent the equivalent of 313 days behind bars since her arrest, leaving her with only about a month to serve.
If she fails to complete probation, she will be imprisoned for eight years for her "inexcusable conduct" on July 31, 2010, the judge said
Carlson, who has three other children, pleaded guilty in June to four counts of child endangerment, one of which carried an allegation that her toddler son, Aaron, suffered fatal injuries.
According to court documents, paramedics were called to the family home in Tierrasanta at 11:33 a.m., and they rushed Aaron to Rady Children's Hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
"I failed as a mother -- I know that," Carlson told the judge.
Deputy District Attorney Fiona Khalil said the family took in a rescue dog that was "hyper" around children, and the defendant would put it in a crate when she went to bed but didn't this time because "she didn't feel like it" after drinking.
"Aaron was left alone to deal with this dog while his mother was drunk on the couch downstairs," said Khalil, who called the defendant a longtime alcoholic.
Carlson was not arrested until this year, but her remaining three children were taken away while she had counseling with child welfare agencies.
Two representatives of those agencies testified at the hearing that Carlson had made excellent progress under their watch.
Marnie Hutcherson, of Crisis House, said she has had only one other client do as well as the defendant. Becky Lanier, of county Child Welfare Services, said the woman went "above and beyond what the agency wanted her to do."
Both witnesses, as well as the defendant's husband, said Carlson interacted well with her other children, who live with family members in Colorado. In fashioning the sentence, the judge cited the need for the youngsters to be reunited with their mother.
Halgren also noted that a Juvenile Court judge granted her unsupervised visits before she was arrested, which she called "remarkable" under the circumstances.
According to court documents, San Diego police Detective Cindy Brady said the left side of Aaron's face had been torn off and he had no skin in the middle of his face. The child's nose and cartilage were gone.
The victim's three siblings were in the home at the time and their father was away on deployment, according to the detective.
Valerie Carlson told detectives she had a friend visit her home the night before and drank four to five Jim Beam bourbon and Coke drinks, starting about 9:30 p.m.