By: KayLynn Roberts-McMurray
On June 15, Maria Bliss appeared before Judge Steve Dobrescu in the Seventh Judicial District Court for her sentencing. Bliss was arrested on Jan. 10 for child endangerment. In April of 2019 Bliss pled guilty.
Both her lawyer and the district attorney were recommending probabtion since she had been cooperating in the case, but the judge handed down a 12-48 month term in prison.
Bliss has reportedly been cooperative with law enforcement in the prosecution of Colon Jackson. Jackson was arrested on Aug. 23 on one count of murder in the case involving the death of 3-year-old Alyahna Bliss, Maria’s youngest daughter.
Attorney Richard Sears, Bliss’s counsel, stood before the judge and noted this wasn’t the first case he or the judge had seen. “These cases have always been terrible in terms of the results to the children or the vulnerable who are involved, and at the same time, we have looked historically at these things, at the attitude of the parent, or the person who is responsible for providing protection to the vulnerable peo- ple, and that has weighed sometimes more than others in terms of the result that was attained.”
Sears explains he had extensive discussions with the government to come to an agreement. “My client has cooperated with the federal authorities that are prosecuting Colon Jackson and, she has turned over everything that would assist the prosecution, she has given multiple interviews with the FBI. She has been honest and open, there has been one continuing problem that I have seen throughout the interviews, she can’t stop grieving.”
She has shown it consistently, and I know remorse is never a factor when someone is pleading not guilty, but this is not a not guilty, this is a guilty.”
Sears described a scenario describing the recent death rate of COVID-19 patients where authorities commanded people who were diagnosed with COVID-19 to be released from hospitals and trans- ferred to care centers with the elderly which resulted in a 70 percent death rate. Sears, “Part of it, it was because they were vulnerable, but part of it was because they housed covid-19 people in a highly contagious environment, and you might ask what the hell does that have to do with this? Well it’s a very similar violation, that somebody who had a duty to protect, didn’t do it, what difference does it make when sentencing? It has to do with pro- portionality. There is no strict proportionality, and we all know that. One way it’s not proportionate is that those authorities are never going to get charged and most won’t even lose public office, but that is the same kind of event at some level occurred in this case.”
“Nothing the court can do will punish her worse than the loss of her child,” Sears said, while asking the court to take in consideration her good performance while on release and the heavy negotiatin with the state for probation.
District Attorney Mike Wheable addressed the court by stating, “I want to first address the idea of strict liability. There is no strict liability in this case, had there been no warning signs or red flags from the relationship, and then a child turned up suddenly injured or deceased, murdered I don’t think we’d be seeking any criminal sanctions against the mother. The problem in this case your honor is that there was a prior report where some abuse, some suspicious bruising had showed up on the child, and excuses were made, and lies were given about falling on a rock on cave lake, when reality it was rough behavior or some, we don’t actually even know what the abuse was for sure, but that it was later admitted from the defendant in Colon Jacksons case was twisting the child’s nipples or hurting the child in some way was not reported to law enforcement.”
Wheable went on to explain that in these type of cases in a relation ship there is sometimes fear and oppression. “We’ll just say in Colon Jackson’s case, there may have been some intimidation for Maria Bliss that would have prevented her from reporting this, and some abuse to Ms. Bliss as well.”
Wheable noted the reason the state was not seeking a prison term was after they viewed a video taken the morning of Jan. 9, 2019, before Alyahna Bliss was murdered.
The video taken on Jan. 9, at the Little People’s Headstart in Ely showed Maria Bliss dropping off Alyahna. “She walked her into day- care, making sure she’s comfortable, talking with teachers, you can see Maria Bliss kissing her, hugging her, tucking her in for the day, and then again later in the day you see Maria Bliss come and pick up this perfectly normal happy child, and leaving her with Colon Jackson before she goes to work. The child was healthy and normal, the relation- ship between the mother and child seemed to be healthy, and positive,” Wheable said.
Later in the day Maria Bliss was called at work to come home, and told something was wrong with the child. The child didn’t recover from the injuries that were sustained at the hands of Colon Jackson in her absence, Wheable said.
The state had a very difficult decision but wanted to secure truthful testimony. “You wouldn’t think the state would have to put something on the table to convince a mother to turn over all the information she has against the person who murdered her child, but the states’ position today, regardless of w hat Mr. Sears says is that Maria Bliss does not believe that Colon Jackson killed her child and I don’t know if it’s a coping mechanism, mental health situation, all I know is that there is some severe mental health issues here, that stands in the way of her fully understanding the position she’s in, her culpability that her ac- tions, simple actions, simple phone call, when that child was still alive, could have prevented that murder and that little girl could have been here today.”
The state is unable to handle Colon Jackson’s case since the jurisdiction is federal. “We all know what it’s like to deal with the federal government and their timelines. It’s very frustrating to see them try to handle a murder case, it’s not their specialty, as we know, the federal government still has not gone to trial against Colon Jackson. He suppos- edly has a jury trial set for September, there is nothing the state can do with that.” Wheable said.
The state requested probation for Bliss since she cooperated with the FBI and will be testifying in court in the prosecution of Jackson. “The state has to seek probation in this case because that was the deal the state made, and it’s a good deal if she’s truthful, if she tries to assist in seeking justice for her deceased child, for one she failed to protect she can now try to help assist and seek justice from happening again in the future. This case is not about Colon Jackson, it’s about Maria Bliss.”
Judge Steve Dobrescu explained to Bliss that he had gone through all of the reports, and took everything into consideration. “You are 32 years old, you have a fairly clean record, minor brushings with the law. Obviously you are productive, you are a hard worker, you have some support out there, certainly the prosecution system is a factor as well, and a big factor for me.”
Dobrescu recognized the efforts made by the state and Bliss’s attorney Sears, for coming up with a balance to cover their interests and the interests for the court and noted he respected that.
“The warning signs, and I have to say this, reading the report, in this case there is a lot of blame to go around, because it wasn’t just an isolation, there was a lot of people who knew what Mr. Jackson was doing to you and even the child, and no one said a word, and that’s compelling in this case, it looks like there was signs all over, so we put all that in the mix.”
Dobrescu agreed that this case was not strict liability and agreed that parole and probations recommendation of 12-48 months was appropriate.
“The ultimate result of this case, is that a child died, and it was your child, that is the result of these actions that were taken and not taken and that’s probably the most compelling part of it to me as well, so based on those things, the court rejects the request for probation, and poses a sentence, she is to be remanded into custody.”