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Mother gets prison for ‘heinous’ child abuse

by KAYE THORNBRUGH
Staff Writer | June 24, 2022 1:06 AM

COEUR d’ALENE — A mother will spend up to a decade in prison for grievously harming her baby.

Hailey N. Harris, 26, pleaded guilty in March to felony injury to a child for her role in what prosecutors called “heinous” abuse of a 7-week-old girl.

Judge John Mitchell sentenced Harris on Wednesday to 10 years in prison — the maximum allowed for the crime — with eight years fixed and two indeterminate. That means Harris will be eligible for parole in about eight years.

Harris was arrested in January alongside her husband, 26-year-old Nicholas T. Branson, after a month-long investigation by the Kootenai County Sheriff’s Office.

Branson pleaded guilty last week to injury to a child and forcible sexual penetration by foreign object, both felonies.

KCSO responded to Kootenai Health in December after receiving a report of an infant with “traumatic” injuries.

A doctor who examined the child described brain injuries “very specific to abuse” and “not seen in accidental head injury.”

The child reportedly sustained at least 14 fractures, including multiple fractures to both legs. Rib fractures consistent with blunt force trauma or squeezing appeared to have occurred a different times.

Tests reportedly indicated liver damage, likely caused by trauma to the abdomen.

Medical staff also discovered trauma to the child’s genitals, which Branson admitted to causing.

In early December, Harris reportedly sent Branson a string of messages about the infant: “She won’t stop ducking (sic) crying," “I’m going to freak out," "I cannot handle it anymore.”

When interviewed by police, Harris reportedly admitted to causing some of the injuries to the child’s limbs, torso and mouth.

Dr. Michael Sokoloff, a specialist in pediatric critical care medicine, examined the child after she was transferred to Sacred Heart Medical Center.

The child had bleeding around her brain, he said, as well as in the backs of her eyes and in her lower back. Her soft spot was full of fluid and had to be drained again more than a month later.

“These types of brain injuries can be serious and have long-lasting effects,” Sokoloff told the court.

The child was reportedly discharged from the hospital in late December and entered foster care. She received seizure medication until February, Sokoloff said. Her current condition is unknown.

Prosecutors said the child endured a “torturous” first month of life.

“What was done to this child was heinous,” said prosecutor Molly Nivison.

Harris told the court that she had struggled with postpartum depression and lacked support when she injured the child.

She said she was too afraid to ask for help, and her child suffered as a result.

“My whole entire heart has been ripped from my chest,” she said. “This isn’t how I wanted our life to go. I’m so sorry for the mistake I have made.”

Before handing down the sentence, Mitchell said prison was the only appropriate outcome for Harris. Though her mental health struggles partially explained her actions, he said, nothing could excuse the harm she caused her child.

“What you have done is horribly wrong,” he said.

Branson is scheduled to be sentenced before Judge Mitchell in August.

Felony injury to a child is punishable by up to 10 years behind bars, while forcible sexual penetration carries a maximum penalty of life in prison.

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