By Kelly Wheeler
City News Service
A former La Jolla real estate agent who scratched eight babies after befriending their mothers was sentenced Tuesday to a two-year county jail term, but the judge said she could serve her custody in a work furlough program if she has a qualifying job.
San Diego Superior Court Judge Michael Smyth ordered Lisa Hench — a 45-year-old mother of three -- to report for custody on March 18.
If Hench qualifies for the work furlough program, in which she would go to her workplace during the day but return to a locked facility at night, she could continue her mental health treatment, which would not be possible in
county jail, the judge said.
A plea agreement reached last month contemplated no additional custody for Hench, but Smyth said he was concerned that other children might be sought out and injured should the defendant be free.
"It (the behavior) does seem to me to be predatory in nature," the judge said.
Smyth said there was no discernable reason why Hench injured the eight children, saying the behavior came "out of the blue."
While Hench is being treated for anxiety and depression, her actions made "no sense whatsoever," the judge said, calling the crimes "inexplicable and despicable conduct."
"Doctors think they know why she did it, but they aren't really sure," Smyth said.
Hench pleaded guilty last month to eight misdemeanor counts of corporal injury on a child. Her victims were injured — none significantly — at different locations over a four-month period in the fall of 2009, prosecutors
said. They ranged in age from 3 months to 19 months.
Lainie Carswell, whose 7-month-old daughter was scratched and pinched by Hench, said the defendant was a "predator on the most innocent, helpless babies."
Carswell said she wanted Hench to go to jail but also wanted the defendant to get help.
"All we want is for her to never do this again, ever," Carswell said.
Kelly Frederick, whose 1 1/2-year-old son was scratched by Hench after the defendant offered to hold the toddler, wondered how a mother could deliberately injure another child.
"It was child, after child, after child, after child, after child, after child, after child, after child," Frederick told the judge. "We want her to get help so this doesn't happen again."
Defense attorney Steven Feldman unsuccessfully argued that Hench did not deserve more custody.
"She's been punished," the defense attorney said.. "What more do we need to do? She's had her career virtually destroyed. She's been flayed publicly."
A tearful Hench apologized directly to the families of the victims.
"I'm truly, truly sorry," Hench said. "I'm truly sorry that this happened. I wouldn't want someone to do that to my own children. I can't imagine being in your shoes, and I was the cause of it."
Hench is expected to serve a year of her two-year sentence, with credit for good behavior, said Deputy District Attorney Patrick Ojeil. After that, the defendant will be on probation for four years.
"This is extremely bizarre behavior," the prosecutor said. "We all want to know why she did it. We'll never know."