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‘It tore our hearts to shreds’

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A childminder was handed a suspended sentence and community service over the death of a toddler who accidentally strangled himself when she left him home alone.

Nasir Burgess, 18 months, was left in a playpen close to an electrical cord dangling from an air conditioning unit. It got wrapped around his neck and killed him after Jennifer Franks left him unattended while she ran an errand.

According to the sentencing judge, Carlisle Greaves: “This is what a lay person would call an accident.”

Franks, 57, ran a day care facility at her Pembroke home and had worked as a child carer for around 25 years.

She was only supposed to be caring for three children under Government rules. However, prosecutor Maria Sofianos told yesterday’s sentencing hearing she’d illegally been caring for up to 12 children prior to Nasir’s death.

On the date in question, September 9, 2011, she was looking after five children. Franks took two of them with her when she went to pick up her adult daughter from her nearby workplace, leaving Nasir and two other babies — Midas Williams, 16 months, and Xavi Viera, seven months.

When she got back, she found Nasir dead in his playpen. She told police her 76-year-old mother was supposed to be watching the children.

The mother had been diagnosed in 2010 with Alzheimer’s disease, and was not present when Nasir died, according to family members.

Franks was originally charged with manslaughter on the grounds of negligence, which she denied.

Last October, she pleaded guilty to three lesser charges of endangering the lives of Nasir and the other two babies by leaving them unattended.

According to Prosecutor Carrington Mahoney, Franks habitually left children at home while she ran errands and had been caught doing so by other parents.

After Nasir’s death, he said, she tried to dodge responsibility for the tragedy.

Mr Mahoney said Franks rearranged the nursery before the police arrived, and told them Nasir had been on the opposite side of the room to the cord.

He said she “tried to imply Nasir had shunted his playpen towards the cord” and she “bobbed and weaved until she could bob and weave no more” during interviews with the police.

He called for her to be sent to jail.

“A clear message must be sent to other day care providers that they cannot flout the laws and take risks with the lives of our infants. The defendant’s action in leaving the children unattended was dangerous and appears to be habitual,” he said.

Nasir is the son of bank worker Arleyne Emery, 32, and air conditioning company worker Corey Burgess, 40, from Smith’s.

Mr Burgess delivered an emotional statement about the devastating impact his son’s death has had on them.

“The pain was like no other we had ever felt in our lives. It tore our hearts to shreds,” he said, after sharing memories of the lively little boy known as “Nas”, who loved to share his food and was fascinated by the moon.

Mr Burgess described Franks’ behaviour as “selfish, and outright criminal” and added: “Nasir’s unfortunate death should send a serious message to the government agencies and departments responsible for ensuring our children are being cared for and protected by all day care providers.

“Nasir’s death is a clear indication that all is not right within the current system and steps must be taken to ensure this does not happen to another child.”

Defence lawyer Saul Froomkin QC pointed out that Franks pleaded guilty, has been badly affected herself by the death, has been unemployed since it happened and has no previous convictions.

“To incarcerate Mrs Franks would be scandalous,” he suggested.

Franks said: “Arleyne and Corey and family — I’m very sorry for what happened. I know this is something I will have to live with for the rest of my life. It’s very devastating to me. There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t think of what happened. Nasir was a child that I was very fond of.”

Sentencing her, Puisne Judge Carlisle Greaves delivered a lengthy assessment of the facts in the case, saying it was important to consider the details “and distil the emotion from the law”.

He said he had to sentence Franks for the child endangerment charges she admitted to, and not for the death of Nasir.

He said he felt her decision to pick her daughter up that day was not “a selfish act” but “an act of love”.

He described Franks’ decision to leave the children behind as “an unfortunate act” but went on to comment: “I don’t think any of us are so perfect that we would walk around our house and start moving around the air conditioning cords. This case is simply an unfortunate accident, to put it in a lay person’s terms.”

He acknowledged the sentence is bound to leave some people unhappy, and also echoed Mr Burgess’s concerns over government monitoring of day care providers.

Franks’ two-year sentence was suspended for three years. She must complete 400 hours of community service, and her name has been added to the child abuse register. She has already been banned for life from operating as a day care provider.

Jennifer Franks leaving court after being given a suspended sentence over the death of toddler Nasir Burgess.
Eighteen-month-old Nasir Burgess accidently strangled himself on an electrical cord after being left home alone.
Jennifer Franks leaving court after being given a suspended sentence over the death of toddler Nasir Burgess.

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Published January 26, 2013 at 8:00 am (Updated January 25, 2013 at 10:25 pm)

‘It tore our hearts to shreds’

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