Judge sentences Eugene woman to 11½ years in prison for abusing 3-year-old child in her care

Two weeks after a jury found her guilty of repeatedly assaulting a 3-year-old child in her care, a Eugene woman learned Wednesday that she will remain imprisoned until her victim is a teenager.

Lane County Circuit Judge Charles Zennaché sentenced Sabrina Marie Harmon to 11½ years in prison for a series of crimes committed against the child in late 2015.

Zennaché — who presided over a three-week trial in the case in April — said he has struggled to understand Harmon’s actions, particularly since it appeared to him that she’s been “a wonderful mom” to her two biological children.

The victim began staying at Harmon’s home in mid-2015, after Harmon and the child’s father began a relationship.

Zennaché said it’s his belief that Harmon initially lacked skills to manage the child, whom he referred to as “a handful,” but that she eventually “crossed into the dark side” and began resorting to violence to deal with the youngster.

The child now is 5 and lives with foster parents.

The jury returned a verdict on May 1 that found Harmon guilty of 13 charges.

The jurors also ruled that the state had proven aggravating circumstances that alleged Harmon’s crimes involved “deliberate cruelty” to the victim.

The child suffered black eyes from being punched, bruising on the body, a hip injury that happened when the youngster’s legs were forced apart during a diaper-­changing incident, and a serious injury to the genital area that still causes some complications, according to trial testimony.

The jury determined that Harmon had caused those injuries, and that she had forced the child to run laps in her backyard as a form of punishment.

Prosecutor Stephen Morgan said in court that the child “will heal from the physical injuries. But the traumatic effects of this abuse will last (the victim) a lifetime.”

Morgan asked Zennaché to send Harmon to prison until the victim reaches adulthood. The child’s foster mother had similar hopes.

“I was hoping (Harmon would be incarcerated until the child is) an adult,” the woman said after Harmon’s sentencing hearing.

The Register-Guard is not naming the foster mother in order to avoid identifying the victim.

If Harmon serves the entire 11½-year sentence — with credit for the nine months she has spent in jail since her arrest last August — the child will be about 16 years old when she is released.

Harmon is eligible to get the term shortened, by several months or more, if she displays good behavior while behind bars.

Defense attorney James Jagger asked Zennaché to sentence Harmon to 7½ years in prison, which is the mandatory minimum term associated with a conviction for first-degree assault.

Jagger said Harmon consistently has maintained her innocence.

Harmon’s primary defense theory at trial was that the child was injured during a series of self-harming behaviors. The child, however, testified that Harmon had caused the genital injury as well as other injuries.

Harmon declined to make a statement at her sentencing hearing. She had no prior criminal record.

The child did not attend Wednesday’s hearing. Gary Gibbons of the group Bikers Against Child Abuse read aloud a statement that Morgan said contained the victim’s words.

The child, according to the statement, remains fearful of Harmon but said that now, “I don’t have to get hurt when I do something wrong.”

Zennaché commented that the child “was failed by a whole bunch of adults,” including the youngster’s mother — who has battled drug addiction — and father, who did not protect the child from being abused.

But the judge commended the child’s foster parents and pediatrician, state Department of Human Services workers, other social service providers and Eugene police for their work with and on behalf of the victim, saying they had served as “heroes” in the case.