Sara Lynn Krueger and Ryan Scott Warner were sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole in Napa County Superior Court Thursday morning for the murder of Krueger’s daughter, 3-year-old Kayleigh Slusher, back in 2014.
Separate juries found Krueger, 27, and Warner, 29, guilty of first-degree murder by torture and assault on a child causing death in May following nearly a month of testimony. The couple was arrested Feb. 2, 2014 just one day after the little girl’s bruised body was found in a child-sized princess bed at Krueger’s apartment on Wilkins Avenue in Napa.
The sentencing was held before Judge Francisca P. Tisher despite a request to postpone the sentencing by Krueger’s attorney, Jim McEntee. The request was denied and both Krueger and Warner were denied probation and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility for parole for the murder conviction and a special allegation that the murder involved the infliction of torture. They were sentenced to 25-years to life in prison for the assault conviction, but that sentence was stayed.
Kayleigh’s paternal grandmother, Robin Slusher, was first to make her victim impact statement to the court.
“How did we get here? I’ll never understand,” Slusher said, directing her words to Sara Krueger, who was crying while seated beside her attorney. Krueger never had any problem asking for money or clothes, but if she had asked for help when she “needed it most” Kayleigh would still be alive right now, Slusher said, tearfully.
For the first time since the trial began, Kayleigh’s father, Jason Slusher, who was incarcerated when his daughter was killed, made his feelings known through a prepared statement. Although he was present, Slusher sat in the back row of the courtroom while his statement was read by attorney Julia Sherwin.
Krueger stared at him from her seat – he looked down at first, eventually looking up, seemingly right at her.
“It is very difficult for me to discuss Kayleigh’s death,” he said. “I feel like Kayleigh was the only right thing that happened in my life.”
In his statement, Slusher said that when he was with Kayleigh, he always made sure that she was protected but when he couldn’t be there, that job fell to her mother, Sara Krueger.
“She should have been protected by her mother,” he said, “not the complete opposite.”
Slusher said that he doesn’t want to be angry but he is. As Krueger’s father, John Krueger, began to make his statement to the court, Slusher called him a “coward” and exited the room.
“This is the first time that I’ve been treated as a victim by this court,” John Krueger said. His daughter’s family members are victims, too – they lost Kayleigh, too, he said. That sentiment was echoed by Sara Krueger’s mother, Cindy Leuthold, who said from the audience that the family had been treated like “second-class citizens.”
She used her statement as an opportunity to show support for her daughter.
“Sara, I love you. You were an amazing mother,” she said. “You are innocent and you will come home – I promise you.”
Deputy District Attorney Lance Hafenstein, who prosecuted the case along with Deputy District Attorney Kecia Lind, told the court that what the defendants did was “simply inhuman” and among the “worst of the worst” crimes.
Kayleigh died from complications of mesenteric contusion and small intestinal hematoma caused by fatal child abuse and neglect, according to earlier court testimony. She suffered multiple blunt impact injuries to the head, torso and extremities, and her death was classified as a homicide.
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During the trial, jurors were shown photos of Kayleigh’s autopsy, which showed that she had bruises all over her body as well as internal injuries.
“These injuries did not magically appear,” Hafenstein said on Thursday. He asked the court to sentence both Krueger and Warner to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Hafenstein also suggested that the defendants “come clean” prior to sentencing.
In response, McEntee said that Krueger has no obligation to “come clean” and that she maintains her innocence. He then read a letter to the court prepared by Krueger.
“Kayleigh was my world,” Krueger said in her statement. She would have never intentionally allowed Kayleigh to be hurt, she said. If she had a time machine, she would have never let Warner into their lives, she said. “I didn’t know he hurt her,” she said, asking for mercy from the court.
“My heart is broken not only for myself but for Kayleigh’s dad,” and the rest of their family members, she said.
Krueger, who was sentenced first, was escorted out of the courtroom before Warner made his statement.
“Kayleigh’s death is an absolute tragedy. I myself am completely broken-hearted over it,” Warner said, unemotional. Warner, now bearded with a shaved head, also maintained his innocence saying “I did not cause any harm to this child.” He made direct comments to Jason Slusher, Robin Slusher and John Krueger.
“My prayer is that you’ll be able to find some type of closure … (and) let go of any hatred you may feel towards Sara or myself,” he said, adding that any anger towards him is “misdirected.”
Warner said he knows his actions following the discovery of Kayleigh’s body were “shameful” and for that he provided no explanation.
“I can’t go back and change it,” he said. “All I can say is I apologize.”
After being read his sentence, Warner told Judge Tisher that he plans to appeal and that his notice of appeal is ready.
Krueger’s family said afterward that she also plans to appeal.
“She didn’t do it,” said Krueger’s grandmother, Pat Pinkerton, who has been travelling from Colorado to attend court events. She belongs in jail for neglect, not murder, she said.
“I’m devastated,” Leuthold, Sara Krueger’s mother, added. “This isn’t right.”
The Slusher family was not immediately available for a comment following the sentencing.