An Iowa City mother who police say allowed her toddler son to become drunk on alcohol was sentenced Monday morning to a suspended prison sentence of up to 10 years.
That means Natasha Kriener, who already has served 104 days behind bars, will not have to serve any additional time unless she violates the conditions of her three-year probation term. If Kriener stays out of trouble during that period of time, her record also will be cleared of the felony neglect charge filed against her.
If Kriener violates the terms of her probation, her prison sentence would become active, and she would be taken into custody.
Kriener, who was scheduled to be tried in February, pleaded guilty to felony neglect or abandonment in November. Her trial originally was set in September, but she failed to appear for a pretrial conference and disappeared for nearly three months until being rearrested on Nov. 1.
Kriener was arrested Feb. 17, 2012, after the father of her two sons picked up the children from her home and had to take their 23-month-old to the emergency room because he was crying and suffering from poor balance, according to a criminal complaint.
At the hospital, the boy’s blood alcohol content was recorded at .097, “incredibly high for a small child,” according to Assistant Johnson County Attorney Rachel Zimmerman. The toddler was showing signs of intoxication, including poor balance, discomfort and fussiness, according to police.
When officers interviewed Kriener that night about her son’s hospitalization, her blood alcohol content was .251, according to police. The toddler’s older sibling told investigators that his brother “drank pop and got sick,” officers reported.
During Kriener’s sentencing hearing on Monday, Zimmerman asked the judge not to give Kriener a deferred sentence or a suspended prison term.
“Based on the charge in this offense, the state believes she has an abuse problem, and she couldn’t provide care for her child,” Zimmerman said.
The father of Kriener’s children, Darren Kriener, testified during the hearing that his former wife was subjected to physical, sexual and emotional abuse and never saw an example of good parenting.
But, he said, “Natasha is not the victim here.” When she turned 18 and when she had children, she became responsible for breaking the cycle and caring for her kids until they are old enough to care for themselves, Darren Kriener said.
He said Natasha Kriener has caused their boys to miss out on lots of hugs and kisses and to experience pain at seeing other children with their mothers. He said she has missed a portion of their lives, as they learn and grow and meet new friends.
It’s impossible to know the fear their young son felt when he couldn’t control his actions while under the influence of alcohol, and there’s no way to know how his brother felt watching his younger sibling lose control, Darren Kriener said.
“But we can’t change the past, we can only move forward,” he said. “And they have great support in moving forward. They have a church with motherly care. They have aunts and cousins. They have a father’s group with other kids in similar situations.”
Darren Kriener said the boys love their mother and will continue to show love for her.
“And they look forward to a time when they can spend time with her without fearing for their safety,” he said.
Natasha Kriener spoke briefly during the hearing to praise her former husband in his role as sole caretaker of the boys and to express her desire to see them again.
“I love and miss my children very much,” she said. “I never meant for something like this to happen.”
The judge said part of the reason she approved of a deferred sentence with a suspended prison term is because Kriener has a minimal criminal history that is clear of any felonies.