Ohio mother who left child home alone for 10 days sentenced

Posted at 12:11 PM, March 18, 2024 and last updated 10:52 AM, March 21, 2024

CLEVELAND (Court TV) — An Ohio mother was sentenced to life in prison without parole for what the judge called “the ultimate act of betrayal” against her young daughter.

Kristel Candelario, 32, pleaded guilty to murder in February for leaving 16-month-old Jailyn home alone in a crib while she vacationed with friends in Puerto Rico and visited lovers in Michigan over 10 days.

On the 11th day, prosecutors said she returned home, found her daughter dead in a Pack-N-Play where she left her with crackers and some milk, and called 911. At some point before first responders arrived, Candelario changed her daughter into fresh clothes, Cuyahoga County Prosecuting Attorney Anna Faraglia said.

Kristel Candelario appears in court.

Kristel Candelario appears in court. (Court TV)

Candelario and her parents begged Judge Brendan Sheehan for mercy at her sentencing, saying she suffered from untreated mental illness that impaired her judgement.

“I’m not trying to justify my actions but nobody knew how much I was suffering and what I was going through,” Candelario said Monday through a Spanish-language interpreter. “Every day I ask forgiveness from God and my daughter … God and my daughter have forgiven me.”

Sheehan could have sentenced Candelario to the possibility of parole after 20 years. Instead, the judge opted for the maximum penalty, saying life in prison was “commensurate” with Jailyn’s suffering. “The only difference is prison will feed you and give you liquids that you denied her,” the judge said.

“You committed the ultimate act of betrayal, leaving your baby terrified, alone, unprotected to suffer what I heard was the most gruesome death imaginable with no food, no water, no protection, and lying in her own feces,” the judge said.

Jailyn died of severe dehydration from caregiver neglect, Dr. Elizabeth Mooney, the medical examiner who performed Jailyn’s autopsy, said at Candelario’s sentencing hearing. Jailyn likely languished for several days based on the state of her body at death, which was 7 lbs. lighter than her last checkup, Mooney said. Not only did Jailyn suffer physically but she likely died in terror from isolation and separation anxiety.

“I believe the pain she experienced lasted not only hours or days but possibly a week,” Mooney said.

Investigators viewed more than 600 hours of doorbell and traffic camera videos and found evidence of Candelario’s vehicle leaving and returning to her house several times between June 5 and June 16, 2023, but no sign of her daughter. Prosecutors played highlights of the videos, including one from June 9, 2023, where the child’s wails could be heard on a neighbor’s doorbell camera.

Cuyahoga County Prosecuting Attorney Anna Faraglia urged the judge to disregard Candelario’s diminished mental capacity claims, pointing to pictures from Candelario’s phone showing her smiling on the beach and posing with friends.

“Her actions speak louder than words. She had the wherewithal to leave Cuyahoga County to be alone with not one but two men and leave her own child alone in a Pack-N-Play,” Faraglia said.

Faraglia asked the court to consider jail phone calls in which she said Candelario made plans for a future outside of prison and spoke of what a “blast” she had in Puerto Rico. In another call with her mother, Candelario compared herself to others in prison for murder and said her daughter’s death was an accident.

“It’s not like I did it intentionally. It’s not like I picked up a gun or bat or the girl bled,” Faraglia quoted Candelario as saying.

Cleveland Police Det. T.J. Powell called the case the most “horrific” of his careers. He read aloud a poem he composed as a tribute to the toddler.

“Jailyn’s life truly mattered. Unfortunately, she died trying to survive off her own fecal matter.”

Sgt. Teresa Gomez teared up describing how details of the case were “branded” in the minds of those who worked on it. What investigators thought was dirt in her eyes and under her fingernails turned out to be feces, Gomez said.

“Many of us are tormented by thoughts of what Jailyn suffered and what her last hours were like. We would have jumped at the opportunity to help her,” said Gomez, a veteran homicide detective. “Jailyn died a long and agonizing death — afraid and alone — while her mother enjoyed the beach and sunshine.”

Prosecutors played Candelario’s hysterical 911 call in which she pleaded for help. Candelario’s lawyer, Derek Smith, said the call showed how Candelario truly felt about her daughter’s death.

The defense lawyer said his client was guilty of “narcissistic, selfish, abhorrent, absolutely the worst parenting imaginable.” Smith told the judge that Candelario had stopped taking “serious medication” for anxiety and depression, which affected her mood and judgement.

“If she was okay, Jailyn was okay,” Smith said. “Of course, that was not the case. But when she got home and we heard that 911 call — she didn’t want this.”

Members of law enforcement and others who contributed to the case packed the courtroom to represent Jailyn alongside the defendant’s parents.

“I want to say here, Jailyn, our angel, your memory lives within us, we will always love you,” said Ketty Torres, the defendant’s mother.

Torres addressed her daughter directly and pledged to stand by her. “I lament and I’m sorry for not having detected what you were going to be. I could not see your heart. I did not see the chaos that you were going through.”