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Tulalip mom gets 15 years in death of daughter
By Diana Hefley
SEATTLE — Christina Carlson of Tulalip was told Monday that a rotten childhood was no excuse for leaving her two young daughters without food or water inside a car so full of human feces and urine that the odor could be detected 30 feet away.
"She held her daughters restrained or captive in no way a human or animal should be kept," Assistant U.S. Attorney Tate London said Aug. 4. "The girls' suffering was unimaginable."
Chantel Craig, 1 1/2, and her sister, 3, were covered in painful sores caused by sitting for days in soiled diapers. There were lice in their hair, and their diapers and blankets were infested with maggots and bed bugs. They were malnourished and dehydrated. The girls were kept strapped in their car seats for long stretches, only being allowed out for about an hour a day.
Carlson, a heroin addict, and her daughters were living for weeks in an inoperable car down a gravel road on the Tulalip Indian Reservation.
Chantel died from neglect on Oct. 8, 2012. Her sister barely survived, likely only saved because a neighbor urged Carlson to return to the car that day.
On Monday, Carlson was sentenced to 15 years in prison for Chantel's murder and the mistreatment of her other daughter.
U.S. District Court Judge James Robart called it one of the worst crimes he has seen, characterizing the murder and mistreatment as "nauseating."
Carlson, 38, showed little emotion. Her attorney explained that the woman had suffered a panic attack before the judge took the bench and was "having a hard time."
"I'd like to say I'm sorry to my family," Carlson said. "I know I did wrong. I made poor choices, and I'm dealing with that every day."
She faced up to 30 years in prison after pleading guilty in April to second-degree murder and first-degree criminal mistreatment. No one advocated for a maximum prison sentence. Instead, Carlson's background, including the abuse and neglect she suffered as a child that left her with cognitive impairments, were raised as reasons to show her leniency.
Carlson was indifferent to her children's' suffering, the federal prosecutor said. Her priority that day was trying to score methadone to ease her heroin withdrawal symptoms. She chose her own needs over those of her children, London said.
It is hard to fathom how a mother could subject her children to such horrific conditions, he said. Her conduct was even more egregious because there was help for Carlson, and she was actively avoiding intervention.
"Life-saving help was only a phone call away," London said.
The Tulalip Tribes, through its child welfare services program, had been looking for Carlson and her daughters for months, the judge was told. State social workers also had an active investigation into the family until just hours before Chantel died.
Tribal and state social workers had difficulties finding Carlson but eventually visited the children. The social workers didn't see any evidence then that the girls were in imminent danger, which would have been necessary to remove them. There also were no signs of abuse or neglect. The social workers agreed to continue to try to assist the family.
About two weeks after the first visit, the tribal social worker learned that the parents weren't seeking help for their alcohol and drug abuse problems, as they claimed they were.
Her four older children already had been removed from her care and she was aware that the Tribes provided a "safety net" for families who needed assistance, London said.
"She knew where to turn for help," London said.
Her client did need services, federal public defender Paula Deutsch said.
"She wasn't able to do it on her own," Deutsch said.
Her client did better when she had support from relatives or friends. A friend had been living with the mother and children in the car but left about four days before Chantel died.
Carlson "really fell apart," after he left, Deutsch said.