Child starved to death: Foster mom files appeal

Posted at 10:21 PM, Mar 24, 2016
and last updated 2016-03-25 00:21:14-04

A foster mom who pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in the death of a 7-year-old who was left in a closet and starved to death, has filed an appeal to overturn her plea.

Sarah Berry took a plea deal in 2008 shortly after her boyfriend at the time, Jon Phillips, who had custody of the boy, was sentenced to a life sentence for the death of Chandler Grafner.

Grafner was found starved to death and inside a small closet in 2007 at the Denver apartment the couple shared.

Berry’s attorney told a judge her public defenders “ignored the only defense” and didn’t investigate soon enough to build a case for their client. She said they had enough testimony from two experts regarding Berry’s mental state to build a case.

Both the defense and prosecutors cross-examined one of the public defenders on Friday in Denver District Court.

The attorney, Jason Young, said the two experts who interviewed Berry did not present enough evidence of mental abuse to build a mental state defense.

He said he asked Berry whether Phillips had ever physically abused her and, “got nothing.”

“I worked my tail off in the case,” said Young, who joined the court through Skype, “and I would like to think I handled it to the best of my ability.”

Berry’s attorney, however, argued against that statement, saying both experts told the attorneys she was mentally distressed and needed further review.

“She wants her opportunity to present the case,” she said.

In court, Young said he wasn’t presented with a plea deal until toward the end of Phillip’s trial. He added the judge told him Berry would get 48 years and wasn’t open to further negotiations.

He testified that Berry asked him whether she should take the deal and he told her, "yes."

Prosecutors argued Young and his colleague did what they had to do and Berry didn’t have to take the offer.

Both Grafner’s biological parents sat inside the courtroom throughout the three-day trial. Christina Grafner told Denver7 reporter Brendaliss Gonzalez that she was “conflicted by the case.”

“At first I was really angry” [when hearing about the appeal, but,] she said, “It’s in God’s hands now.”

Both sides made their final arguments on Friday afternoon and the judge will present a written verdict. 

If he agrees to her appeal, Berry’s conviction could be overturned and she could get a chance for a trial. 


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