Joplin mother pleads guilty to abuse of 3-year-old daughter

Jeff Lehr, The Joplin Globe, Mo.
·2 min read

May 5—A 25-year-old Joplin mother has pleaded guilty to charges that she abused and medically neglected her 3-year-old daughter, who was brought to a hospital with severe dehydration, kidney failure, emaciation from malnourishment and evidence of nine bone fractures.

Celia M. Lara-Licon changed her plea to guilty Monday in Jasper County Circuit Court on counts of first-degree domestic assault and child abuse in a plea deal dismissing two additional counts of each offense and a felony count of child endangerment.

Her plea agreement caps the prison time she might receive on the assault charge at 25 years. She entered an open plea on the Class B felony count of child abuse, which carries from five to 15 years.

Judge Gayle Crane delayed formal acceptance or rejection of the plea bargain and ordered the completion of a sentencing assessment prior to a sentencing hearing June 21.

Lara-Licon was arrested March 3, 2020, after an investigation by Joplin police and the Missouri Department of Social Services.

A probable-cause affidavit filed in the case states that she had met with child welfare workers on March 3 regarding her three children and their fathers, and admitted that she was the one abusing the girl.

She told an investigator that she had been abusing her for about eight months, hitting her on various parts of her body and jerking her about by her arms. She brought the girl to the emergency room of Mercy Hospital Joplin the following day because she was vomiting.

A nurse practitioner who examined the child noted a bruise that ran across her forehead, that she appeared lethargic and severely dehydrated, weighed just 25 pounds and was nonverbal and unable to hold a cup.

Hospital staff determined that she had not been seen by a medical professional for 18 months and that due to her kidney failure she would require dialysis.

X-rays detected fractures to nine bones in various stages of healing, a sign of "chronic violence," according to the affidavit. The fractures were to two ribs, the clavicle, the humerus bones in both arms and the tibia and fibula in both legs. She had bruising on an ear and her buttocks as well as her face.

The girl had to be flown to Children's Mercy Hospital in Kansas City and placed in a pediatric intensive care unit due to the severity of her condition, according to the affidavit.

A pediatrician there who classified the abuse as "child torture" believed the girl's nonverbal demeanor was the result of extreme neglect, possibly involving isolation.