February 17, 2014 by Robert Franklin, Esq.
Texas mother Tiffany Klapheke has been found guilty of child endangerment resulting in death by a Taylor County jury and sentenced to 30 years in prison. She’ll be eligible for parole in 15 years.
Klapheke is the mother of three who reacted to her airman husband’s second deployment to Afghanistan by walking away and leaving her three children by themselves. The oldest was three years old, another was 22 months old and the youngest was six months old. The middle child, Tamryn, died of dehydration and malnutrition and the other two barely survived their ordeal.
Apparently someone alerted the police who arrived just in time to save the lives of the oldest and youngest children but were too late for Tamryn.
Taylor County Child Protective Services knew Tiffany Klapheke to be a danger to her children. At the time she walked away and left them alone, CPS had had a file open on her for 10 months. But, in violation of agency rules that require a follow-up visit, someone closed the file. Six days later, Tamryn was dead and the other children were in protective custody.
That violation of its own rules that abetted the death of a child resulted in an investigation of the local CPS. That in turn resulted in local supervisors and caseworkers covering up not only their involvement in the Klapheke case, but others as well. They stonewalled police and prosecutors. Doing so caused the firing and suspension of more than one supervisor and caseworker. A state judge appointed a special prosecutor to investigate Taylor County CPS.
All that time, Tiffany Klapheke watched from jail where she was held in lieu of $500,000 bond. Her two other kids were placed in the care of grandparents and her husband, Senior Airman Thomas Klapheke, divorced her. He now has supervised visitation with his two remaining children.
Last fall, Airman Christopher Perez was found guilty of dereliction of duty by a military tribunal, sentenced to three years in prison and dishonorably discharged. It turned out he and Tiffany pursued a lengthy extramarital affair while Thomas was stationed overseas. During the affair, Perez often observed Tiffany lock her children alone in their room and simply ignore them. He never intervened, saying he thought it would be improper to interfere with her parenting of her children.
In a nutshell, Tiffany’s abandonment of her children in August of 2012, was by no means the first time she’d done that, albeit apparently never for so long. Her claim of being too upset by her husband’s departure to care for her children appears strained at best. She wasn’t too upset to have an extramarital affair and anyway, walking away from her kids was part of her regular parental behavior.
Tiffany’s trial attorney was Houston lawyer George Parnham. He’s the one who eventually succeeded in having Andrea Yates found to be insane at the time she drowned her five children. He wasn’t so successful in Tiffany’s case, but he tried. Apparently Tiffany was abandoned by both her mother and grandmother when she was a girl. She went into foster care and was adopted by her foster parents. She claimed her adoptive father abused her.
But her childhood traumas proved insufficient to convince the jury that she should be excused from criminal liability in the death of her daughter. Here’s an interview with one of the jurors, Elizabeth McDonald (Big Country Homepage, 2/15/14). She said that, of the 12 jurors, six immediately wanted to sentence Tiffany to the maximum punishment allowable, life imprisonment. Others were swayed by Tiffany’s childhood abuse and leaned toward more lenient sentences. They finally agreed on 30 years. Significantly, when deciding guilt or innocence, the same jury didn’t buy Tiffany’s childhood abuse as grounds for finding her not guilty. McDonald said she felt sorry for her, but her childhood didn’t “excuse what she did to those kids.” She added that she wanted Tiffany and her lawyers to know how close the jury was to sentencing her to life behind bars.
After her conviction and sentencing, Tiffany gave an interview to a local television station. Here it is (Big Country Homepage, 2/14/14). Interestingly, at no time during the 21-minute interview, did she exhibit the slightest remorse for killing her daughter. Indeed, her entire message is about her. She wants people to know how she suffered as a child, how she’s suffered in jail (someone socked her in the nose), how mean the press has been to her, that Thomas Klapheke is dishonest, that she has dedicated herself to helping others and educating people about Reactive Attachment Disorder and Borderline Personality Disorder, from which her experts at trial said she suffers. The reporter, Victor Sotelo twice offered her opportunities to tell people how remorseful she is about allowing a 22-month-old child to die a slow, painful death, but Tiffany redirected her remarks toward herself.
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