Foster mother sentenced for killing 10-year-old in her care

Posted: Sunday, January 28, 2001

ANCHORAGE -- A foster mother was sentenced Friday to 20 years in prison, with 10 suspended, for the beating death of a child in her care.

Melissa Falgoust, 35, pleaded no contest to manslaughter in August for killing Steven Murray, 10, one of three emotionally disturbed children in her care.

Prosecutors said Falgoust pushed him, struck him with her fists and threw the boy down headfirst. He died of head injuries July 28, 1999, a day after he was beaten.

State youth authorities placed Steven, who had a history of hurting himself, in the Falgoust home in June 1998. It was his 11th foster home. He had been removed from his mother's care when the Division of Family and Youth Services found he was at risk because of substance abuse and domestic violence in her home.

Assistant district attorney Adrienne Bachman played recordings of 911 calls made by Falgoust on July 27, as Steven lay on the garage floor. Falgoust told police that he had rammed his head on the ground and had attacked her.

''I'm trying to talk to him and his eyes are glazed,'' Falgoust said on the tape. She asked the other children to check on him as she spoke with police. ''They said he's suffering when he's breathing.''

Police later determined the call was a setup, to make it sound like the boy had hurt himself.

Former state medical examiner Dr. Michael Propst said the injuries could not have been self-inflicted. He said if Falgoust had brought the boy to the hospital sooner, doctors may have been able to treat the swelling in his brain.

Propst described several injuries, including a leg fracture that was never treated and was healing. The abuse, he estimated, took place over weeks or months.

Steven's guardian ad litem, Marcia Honea, told Superior Court Judge Larry Card that Falgoust manipulated the system by not telling DFYS she needed help. Social workers and therapists visited weekly with Falgoust and her foster children. A month before Steven died, Falgoust was arrested for assaulting her husband with a baseball bat.

''She chose not to report this,'' Honea said.

Before the hearing ended, Falgoust told Judge Card she felt ''deep remorse'' for Steven's death. ''I loved Steven like he was my own child,'' she said.

Card handed down the maximum sentence based on the plea agreement, twice the usual term for manslaughter.

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