Jon Johnson File Photo/Gila Herald: Destinee Ballard was sentenced to three years probation on a charge of endangerment and will return to court Nov. 15 to be sentenced on her more serious charge of attempted child abuse.
Judge defers sentencing on more serious charge for eight months
By Jon Johnson
SAFFORD – A woman who left her 4-month-old son for dead underneath a woodpile for approximately 12 hours has been given a chance to show that with the assistance of medication and counseling she will no longer be a danger to any of her children.
Destinee Ballard, 23, was sentenced to three years on probation after pleading guilty to endangerment and was released from custody after having spent the last 193 days in jail. She still faces the possibility of being sentenced to 5 to 15 years in prison, but that will be decided in November after seeing how she performs on probation.
Ballard was initially arrested on Sept. 11, 2020, after having placed her 4-month-old son underneath a woodpile and then leaving him to nature and the elements. The infant’s grandfather found him later on that night and saved him.
At that time, Ballard allegedly told her mother that she believed the baby to be deceased. Ballard was arrested and charged with three counts of child abuse and one count of endangerment.
Ballard was found to have mental health issues and had to go through a process to restore competency to stand trial, which included taking medication.
On Monday, Ballard pleaded guilty to an amended charge of attempted child abuse – a Class-3 felony and dangerous crime against a child, and endangerment – a Class-6 felony. The plea agreement dismissed two of the child abuse counts and gave a stipulated term of three years on probation on the endangerment charge with sentencing on the attempted child abuse charge left up to the court.
With the blessing of the prosecution and defense, Graham County Superior Court Judge Michael D. Peterson then sentenced Ballard to the stipulated three-year term of standard probation on the endangerment charge. However, Judge Peterson deferred sentencing on the more serious charge of attempted child abuse until Nov. 15, at 1:30 p.m., to give Ballard a chance to see if she would succeed on probation with the assistance of her mental health medication and counseling. Ballard can be given either a term of probation for the attempted child abuse charge or a prison sentence ranging from a minimum of 5 years to a maximum term of 15 years, with the presumptive term being 10 years.
During the hearing Monday, the court was informed that Ballard’s four children are living with their father at Ballard’s parents’ residence and that if Ballard would be released she would be living with her sister in Pima. Ballard will only be granted supervised visits with her children to be overseen by Ballard’s mother or another adult approved by her mother. Ballard’s mother was at the hearing and advised the court of how her daughter had improved with the help of her medication.
During the hearing, Judge Peterson said it was time Ballard focused on getting herself to a better place with the help of counseling and by continuing to take her medication.
“(That’s) a lot of kids for a 23-year-old,” Judge Peterson said. “If I saw you walking down the street, I would think you were much younger than 23. You seem very nice . . . I have some grave concerns about you. Frankly – four children – you need to not have any more kids. You need to take care of yourself and the ones that you have in due time. Right now, you need to work on yourself.”
Graham County Attorney L. Scott Bennett agreed with Judge Peterson’s decision to defer sentencing on the more serious charge and said that he thought it to be a good idea as part of the plea agreement involves community wellness.
“The court might get a very, very good perspective as to whether or not this defendant can comply with medication,” Bennett said. “My reading of the report is she’s now basically medication-dependent. I think before we make any major decisions which could result in up to 15 years in prison, a period of observation when it comes to her compliance of medication is a great idea.”
Judge Peterson then sentenced Ballard to her three years on probation and advised that the court would see her again on Nov. 15 to sentence her on her attempted child abuse charge.
“It’s not going to be that hard of a hearing,” Judge Peterson said. “You’re going to do good and you’re going to get a great outcome. If you don’t, it’s going to be a terrible hearing and it’s going to be a terrible outcome. But I have confidence you’re going to do this and you’re going to it this successfully.”