Colorado mother who portrayed daughter as terminally ill pleads guilty

The Colorado mother accused of murdering her 7-year-old daughter by pretending the girl was terminally ill pleaded guilty Monday to child abuse that negligently caused her daughter’s death.

Kelly Turner, 43, put her head in her hands and wept when District Court Judge Patricia Herron asked how she wished to plead. Turner’s public defender put a hand on Turner’s back and spoke with her quietly. The mother paused for nearly a minute before responding to the judge’s query.

“Guilty,” Turner finally answered, pleading to the charge of committing child abuse and negligently causing 7-year-old Olivia Gant’s death. She went on to plead guilty to two theft charges as well.

Turner was charged in 2019 with first-degree murder in Olivia’s death. Prosecutors accused Turner of portraying her daughter as sick for years, lying about her symptoms and fooling doctors at Children’s Hospital Colorado into providing unnecessary and even life-threatening procedures. The girl died in hospice care in 2017.

A first-degree murder conviction carries a mandatory life sentence in Colorado. Turner pleaded guilty to lesser charges. As part of the plea agreement, prosecutors and Turner agreed to a 16-year prison sentence on the child abuse charge. Turner would serve that prison term at the same time as a 10-year sentence on one of the theft charges, and a three-year sentence on the final theft charge, Herron said during Monday’s hearing.

The judge will have the option to accept the plea agreement and impose that agreed-on sentence at a Feb. 9 sentencing hearing. On Monday, she called the agreement “difficult to stomach.”

“That does not mean I will not impose it,” she said. “For any number of reasons, I understand how we end up here. But it’s difficult when we have the death of a young child. A death after, what the court considers from my review of the documents, after this child had been submitted to a lifetime of painful, frightening tests and surgical procedures ultimately resulting in this child’s death. It is unthinkable, and from this court’s perspective, generally would be met with the harshest of sentences.”

Chief Deputy District Attorney Christopher Gallo told Herron that the case was extremely complex and that prosecutors couldn’t pinpoint a “discreet moment in time” when the abuse happened. Olivia’s medical saga stretched for years. He said that doesn’t cripple the prosecution, but still “complicates any theory of conviction we would proceed on in trial.”

“This is not perfect justice by any means,” Gallo said. “But certainly, Judge, this plea is in the interest of justice. And for those reasons we ask the court to accept the plea.”

One of Turner’s public defenders, Ara Ohanian, told the judge Monday that defense attorneys spent “many, many hours” working with prosecutors to “craft what would be the best thing to do in this case.”

A Denver Post investigation last year found that some doctors and nurses at Children’s Hospital Colorado raised concerns that Olivia was being medically abused by her mother before Olivia died, but the hospital did not report their suspicions to any outside agencies.

The hospital instead relied on an internal team to look into the concerns, which then concluded there was no need to alert the state’s Department of Human Services, despite the state’s mandatory reporting laws. Olivia’s death went un-investigated for more than a year, until Turner brought Olivia’s sister into the hospital for vague medical complaints and a doctor realized Turner was lying about the girl’s medical history.

Olivia’s surviving family members in September resolved a $25 million civil claim against the hospital. Hollynd Hoskins, an attorney who represents Olivia’s family, said some family members plan to speak at Turner’s sentencing.

“Olivia’s family remains completely heartbroken over her tragic and preventable death. They want everyone to know that Olivia was an amazing and resilient young girl,” Hoskins said. “They intend to speak at sentencing as their mission remains to make sure this never happens to another child.”

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