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July 30, 2014

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Couple will do time in prison

Although the mother of two girls who were stabbed in Mesquite in 2003 didn't wield the knife that killed one of the children and crippled the other, "she caused this to happen," Deputy District Attorney Lisa Luzaich Rego said Tuesday.

District Judge Donald Mosley agreed with the prosecutor that Tamara Schmidt deserved prison time for neglecting her children; he ordered Schmidt to serve a term of four to 12 years.

Tamara and Robert Schmidt had pleaded guilty July 25 to one count of felony child abuse and neglect causing substantial bodily injury for leaving Schmidt's daughters alone in a trailer outside a Mesquite casino the night the children were attacked.

Three-year-old Kristyanna Cowan was fatally stabbed, and Kristyanna's then-10-year-old half-sister, Brittney Bergeron, was left paralyzed by her injuries.

Prosecutors allege Beau and Monique Maestas first confronted the Schmidts for allegedly selling them salt under the guise that it was $125 worth of methamphetamine in January 2003 inside the CasaBlanca casino.

Prosecutors say that after the siblings were kicked out of the casino, they went looking for the couple at the Schmidts' trailer in the CasaBlanca RV park, but found only Tamara Schmidt's daughters there and stabbed them.

Mosley said Tuesday that this case was yet another indication that "narcotics is destroying society."

The judge went on to say that in his 27 years on the bench, every morning 70 percent of the people before him in court are there to answer to charges that are in some way related to drugs.

Mosley said the Schmidts' case was "a flagrant example of what it (drug use) can lead to."

Luzaich Rego argued that Tamara Schmidt deserved the maximum sentence of eight to 20 years in prison because throughout Schmidt's life she had displayed nothing but an "it's all about me" attitude and "today it's about Brittney and Kristyanna."

The prosecutor said Tamara Schmidt was not just guilty of leaving her children at home unattended while she gambled and did drugs, but of taking Brittney's childhood from her. She said Brittney had to fill the motherhood role for Krystanna, feeding, bathing and dressing the child.

Brittney missed more than 50 days of school during the 100 or so days she lived in Mesquite because on most mornings when she tried to leave for school, Krystanna would follow her out. Brittney felt compelled to stay home and care for her because their mother slept until much later in the day.

After the sentencing, Luzaich Rego said, "Children are precious gifts from God, and you have to do everything you possibly can to nurture them. If one parent out there learns a lesson from this I think I have done my job."

Luzaich Rego said she respected Mosley's sentencing of Robert Schmidt to two to 10 years in prison because there was a "different sense of accountability for him since he was only a part of the girls' lives for three years."

In court, Robert Schmidt stood and cried as he said, "I just wish it was me and not them. Even though I'm not their biological father I love them."

He said Kristyanna called him Dad and he put a roof over the girls' heads, fed and clothed them.

Robert Schmidt's attorney, Ben Bingham, took issue with the prosecution's contention that the facts of the case show the attack on the girls was the result of a "drug deal that went bad."

Bingham said he believed the evidence showed there was evidence of an altercation between Beau Maestas and the Schmidts at the Casablanca, but no evidence that a drug deal had gone down.

The defense attorney also challenged the Department of Parole and Probation's recommendation that the Schmidts receive prison time. He said after an initial interview the Schmidts were told the department would likely recommend probation.

Bingham said 30 to 45 days later he received a letter from the department saying the officer violated policy by doing so and had made the statement without seeing the District Attorney's case file, police reports, victim information and other information on the Schmidts.

The cases were subsequently reassigned, and the officer who initially had the case was reprimanded. The department ultimately recommended the Schmidts receive 32 months to 10 years in prison.

Mosley said although he read Parole and Probation's recommendation, he sentenced people according to his own judgment and knowledge of the case and not simply on pre-sentencing reports.

When given the opportunity to address the court, Tamara Schmidt cried and shook before Mosley, saying her decision to leave her daughter's home alone was "the biggest mistake I've ever made."

"Not a day goes by that I don't think about what happened to my girls and what they went through," Tamara Schmidt said. "It's completely changed my life in every sense."

Overcome with emotion, Tamara Schmidt began to hyperventilate and was unable to continue speaking.

Tamara Schmidt's attorney, Steve Caruso, was at a loss of words after the sentences.

"I'm just in a state of shock."

The defense attorney said it seemed as if prosecutors "want to charge her as an accomplice to murder, and all she really failed to do was hire a babysitter."

Caruso then attacked the prosecution and Parole and Probation saying, "They manipulated what happened before the murder, and nothing that she (Tamara Schmidt) did afterward made any difference."

Caruso challenged the pre-sentencing report created by Parole and Probation, saying it was "not fit to wrap a fish with."

He said it was based on unsubstantiated claims by the Schmidts' neighbors in the trailer park complex who suggested the children were not properly fed or clothed. He said "people come out of the woodwork after the media attention. It's a phenomenon."

Caruso said that if the conditions alleged existed, how was it that none of the neighbors interviewed ever filed a report or intervened. take care of Brittney's special medical and emotional needs.

He reasoned the past 2 1/2 year period in which Tamara Schmidt had changed her life showed she would be successful if granted probation.

Caruso said Tamara Schmidt's prison sentence put her attempts reunite with Brittney back to "square zero."

Because of a ruling by Family Court Judge Gerald Hardcastle, Schmidt's parental rights have not been terminated and she was to have increased visitation with Brittney and undergo family counseling.

Caruso said the reunification effort was going so well that he was recently told by Department of Child and Family Services counselors Brittney could have been living with her mother by Christmas.

Brittney's attorney, Steve Hiltz, the directing attorney of the Children's Attorney Project, said he had not heard of any such predictions coming from the department or any counselors involved in the reunification efforts.

On the contrary, Hiltz said Hardcastle had told Brittney in chambers and then in open court that she would not be sent back to live with Tamara Schmidt "unless she (Brittney) felt it was safe to do so."

Hiltz said he would be meeting with Brittney today to discuss the sentencing.

"Brittney loves her mother but scared that this happened," Hiltz said. "She's found a new family and she wants them to adopt her."

Brittney continues to live with her foster family.

She recently received a $5.5 million settlement from the owners of the CasaBlanca Resort RV park where the attack occurred.

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