Breaking: Sheridan couple sentenced to prison for felony child abuse

(Sheridan, Wyo.) — Michael A. Tibbets and Donna Gifford have been sentenced to consecutive 3 to 5 year prison terms for each of their three felony convictions, for a total of 9 to 15 years by Judge John Fenn in the Fourth Judicial District Court. However, the District Court suspended the prison terms pending completion of a 1-year jail sentence, followed by consecutive 5 years of probation for each conviction. Tibbets and Gifford were given credit for time already served, but must now complete the balance of their 1-year jail sentences. Upon completion of their 1-year in jail, both will face 15 years of probation for their crimes. The probationary terms include no contact with any of the three victims. Tibbets and Gifford, both of Sheridan County, were found guilty on three counts of felony child abuse each after a weeklong jury trial in January. "This is a case that is as tough as they get," Fenn noted. "I've been lying awake at night thinking about comments" he might make about the case at sentencing. Fenn said he recognized all the hard work the Department of Family Services has done on this case, and the difficult postion they are in. In handing down the sentence, Judge Fenn noted, "The safety of the victims is of foremost importance to the Court at this time." Although Judge Fenn said there have been "literally hundreds of thousands of dollars and resources spent on this family," he declined to order any restitution to the state in the criminal matter, noting there are other avenues the state can seek reimbursement for those expenses. The State had asked for 9-15 years of imprisonment for both defendants, which means three to five years consecutively for each of their three felony child abuse convictions. Giffords' older son from a prior relationship testified, saying, "What happened happened ... She cares, and loves her kids, and wants them back." During testimony from the children's foster mom, the State played a portion of a song recorded by the children. The haunting song written by an 11-year-old had lyrics about sitting in the shadows beneath covered windows. "When you have a chance, it slips right through your hands ... that's how my life has been — a series of closed doors in my face," the lyrics went. "Don't bother to look for the key, it is buried under a mountain of shame where you will never find it again." The song continued to describe getting food by "sneak and snatch," eating hot dogs that were three weeks old and other abuses. The song ended with a plea for adoption: "I think that God wants us to be adopted." According to court documents, the Sheridan Police Department began an investigation regarding children, who were subject to severe emotional neglect and placed into foster care in May of 2014. Tibbets' attorney Jeremy Kisling said that the case started as a "dirty house" one, and argued that "reckless behavior led to harm," which isn't the same as an abuse case that involved overt acts of abuse like cigarette burns. "Mike Tibbets has recognized his shortcomings as a parent," Kisling said. Gifford's attorney Angela Long called her client "a mentally ill person at home, trying to take care of her kids." "She is ashamed of what's happened, and she is remorseful," Long said. The children were placed into protective custody in October of 2012. A previously scheduled sentencing was rescheduled because a pre-sentencing investigation took longer than expected. #dally #news