Fort Benton Step-Grandmother Gets 3-Year Sentence For Shaking A Baby

A 14-month-old baby’s life expectancy has been reduced to just 30 years after he was repeatedly shaken by his step-grandmother, according to a pediatrician who testified at the sentencing on Tuesday. 

Jennie Lee Luraas, 46, was charged last June in Chouteau County District Court with assault on a minor for reportedly shaking the baby regularly to pull him out of seizures.

The infant was born addicted to opioids, which caused the Department of Family Services to place the boy with Luraas in the first place, Lindi Bjornson, the boy’s paternal grandmother, told the Tribune.

On Tuesday, Judge Daniel Boucher sentenced Luraas to 10 years with the Montana Department of Corrections with seven suspended. 

As part of her sentence, Luraas must also register as a violent offender. 

A DOC commitment can mean one of several things: Luraas may be sentenced to the women’s prison for three years, or she may spend that time with an ankle monitor out of custody.

Bjornson had asked the judget for a 20-year sentence in the Montana Women’s Prison with 10 suspended. 

“My prayer is the DOC keeps her for three years,” Bjornson said. 

Prosecutors filed the charge against Luraas on June 9, approximately seven days after a child-protective service worker with the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services reported to local law enforcement of a “shaken baby” case. The boy was 3-months-old at the time.

The child had been transported to Benefis by Luraas and her husband, Todd. They had taken custody of the baby after DPHHS had removed him from his parents.

A Benefis doctor told a Chouteau County deputy the baby had suffered several internal head injuries that, in her opinion, may be crippling, according to charging documents. The doctor also noted one of the head injuries appeared to be older than the others. She said the injuries appeared to be consistent with a child being shaken.

Luraas reportedly told the deputy that since she and her husband had taken custody of the boy, he had suffered several episodes of seizures, locking up and in some instances had stopped breathing. According to the deputy, Luraas said the only thing that works to get the boy out of the seizure is to put him in cold water and shake him. 

According to charging documents, Luraas demonstrated for the deputy how she grabs the baby and shakes him from side to side and back and forth. 

The baby was rendered blind as a result of the abuse. The pediatrician who testified also said the baby boy will not be able to swallow on his own, and will soon require 24/7 care. 

In February, Luraas offered to plead guilty to the original charge without a plea agreement from prosecutors. She pleaded guilty to the charge on March 6.

Federal bankruptcy records show Luraas and her husband had filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy less than two months prior to the incident. According to initial filings, they owed between $50,000 and $100,000 to 69 creditors.

Chouteau County Attorney Steve Gannon was unavailable for comment on Thursday about the case. Sheriff Vern Burdick was also unavailable. 

Bjornson said she had disputed the DFS placement with Luraas and Todd, Bjornson’s ex-husband, prior to the incident.

“It’s just been really tough,” Bjornson said. “He’s a beautiful baby.”

Bjornson said she will make an effort to advocate for mandatory sentences in such cases, as well as better education for mothers, DFS placement guardians and DFS workers. 

“It’s probably one of the most horrific things that can happen to a family,” she said. “I just got home to Minnesota yesterday, and I cried for 900 miles.”

This article was originally published by the Grand Falls Tribune.

Scott Juceam is one of the leading advocates against Shaken Baby Syndrome. Scott’s life changed when his daughter Hannah was shaken to death by her nanny in 2006. Since then, Scott has dedicated his life to preventing Shaken Baby Syndrome and child abuse.

To learn more about me, please visit my website at or you can click here.

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