Updated at 8:18 p.m.
By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter
CHEHALIS – Almost a year after losing her 2-year-old daughter to torturous sexual abuse of a new live-in boyfriend, Becky M. Heupel today faced a judge, charged with failing to protect the little girl.
Heupel, 31, admitted to police, according to prosecutors, that if she had witnessed injuries on someone else’s child that she saw on her own daughter, she would have called the police.
The Centralia woman pleaded not guilty this afternoon to second-degree criminal mistreatment in Lewis County Superior Court. It’s a class C felony.
Koralynn Fister died last May 24 of head injuries and drowning; the boyfriend James Reeder said he found her face down in the bathtub when he stepped out to get a towel.
Flanked by two women in the Chehalis courtroom described by Koralynn’s father as Heupel’s advocates, the mother did her best to avoid news cameras, and said very little during the brief hearing.
Heupel, who is partially deaf, used a hearing device provided by courtroom staff.
“I think it’s bogus,” her father Terry Heupel said of the criminal charge. “She ended up with a bad fellow she trusted. She was like a mother hen to those kids.”
Becky Heupel has a 4-year-old daughter who was put into foster care by the state when Koralynn died.
Heupel’s step-mother, sister, grandmother and other apparent supporters were among those who attended the proceedings. David Fister, father of Koralynn, was present as well.
Fister said he preferred not to comment, wishing to stay out of the spotlight.
Koralynn would have turned 3 years old two weeks ago, the toddler’s grandfather said.
“For her birthday, instead of gearing up up for a celebration, we went to the cemetery,” Terry Heupel said. “That was hard.”
Charges were filed two weeks ago, and Heupel was summonsed by mail to appear for today’s hearing.
Prosecutors allege the mother recklessly created an imminent and substantial risk of death or great bodily harm through her inaction.
When interviewed by Centralia police this past January, Heupel confirmed she wanted a relationship with Reeder and ignored warnings from others about the relationship, as well as signs she saw herself, such as controlling behavior and signs of abuse to the child, according to prosecutors.
Her attorney, Paul Strophy, said he was only hired this week and didn’t have enough information yet to make any statements outside the courtroom.
“It’s premature to make any comments on the case,” Strophy said.
Charging documents for Heupel repeat in a fair amount of detail the injuries, new and old, that medical personnel discovered on the little girl’s body. When he charged Reeder last May, Lewis County Prosecutor Jonathan Meyer called it the the worst case of child abuse and neglect he’d seen in his career.
The charging documents do not specify what signs of abuse prosecutors allege Heupel saw on her daughter.
Lewis County Senior Deputy Prosecutor Will Halstead earlier this month told a judge nobody else really knew what was happening to Koralynn other than Reeder as he had isolated the child; he’d change her diapers and give her baths.
Among the injuries noted were palm-sized pieces of skin missing from her buttocks, consistent with rubbing over time, according to Halstead.
Prosecutors allege that the day before Koralynn died, her aunt noticed an injury on the toddler’s behind and told Heupel she needed to have it looked at.
Charging documents state that Heupel told police she met Reeder online and he moved into the home off West Oakview Avenue about 10 weeks before Koralynn’s death.
She admitted to police she had issues setting boundaries in relationships, according to charging documents.
About one month before the death, Reeder suggested parenting duties should be divided up, and as a result he spent a significant amount of time alone with the toddler, documents state. When Heupel would leave, he’d insist she take the older daughter, Meyer wrote.
Heupel and her 4-year-old left the house about 12:30 p.m. the day Koralynn died, less than three hours before Reeder carried the naked and unbreathing child to neighbors across the street asking them to call 911.
Meyer contends the mother chose to ignore the risks so her relationship with Reeder could continue.
Meyer requested, and Judge James Lawler agreed, today that Heupel remain out of jail pending trial on a $10,000 signature bond.
The judge also ordered she have no contact with children, except for the two hour once a visit allowed by Child Protective Services with her remaining daughter.
A trial was set for the week of June 10
For background, read “Centralia man gets maximum prison term for sexual abuse, death of toddler” from Wednesday March 6, 2013, here