Kelsey Smith-Briggs’ death lawsuit brings $625K deal
Federal judge will decide later how the state settlement money will be divided
BY NOLAN CLAY
Published: June 30, 2009
The state of Oklahoma paid $525,000 Monday to settle a wrongful-death lawsuit over the murder of Kelsey Smith-Briggs, and a private agency paid $100,000.
A federal judge Monday approved the $625,000 settlement but will decide later how to split the money.
The girl’s father filed the lawsuit and represents her estate, but her mother, who is in prison for enabling Kelsey’s abuse, wants half.
Kelsey, 2, died from abuse on Oct. 11, 2005, at her home near Meeker.
The slaying became a high-publicity case that exposed serious flaws in how the Department of Human Services protects abused children. An oversight agency found DHS made a series of mistakes in the abused child’s case, such as failing to contact police when she broke both legs. The case led to reforms.
Girl’s killer still is unknown
Who killed the girl remains a mystery. Her stepfather, Michael Lee Porter, 29, was charged with first-degree murder and child sexual abuse but pleaded guilty instead to enabling child abuse. He is serving a 30-year prison sentence. He blamed the girl’s mother for her death.
The mother, Raye Dawn Smith, 29, was never charged with murder. She was convicted at trial of enabling child abuse and is serving a 27-year prison sentence. “Kelsey was my best friend in the entire world and it hurts so bad for people to say the things they do. … I didn’t hurt Kelsey and … I didn’t sit back and let it happen,” she said after her trial.
Kelsey died even though DHS workers, a private child-welfare worker and a judge were overseeing her care because of evidence she had been repeatedly abused. Her death came four months after the judge returned Kelsey to her mother despite accusations the mother was the abuser.
Trial revealed concerns
Kelsey’s father, Lance Briggs of Shawnee, was returning to Oklahoma from military duty when she died.
He sued DHS, its director and others in 2006, alleging Kelsey died because of “systemwide failures” at DHS.
The state and the private agency, Eastern Oklahoma Youth Services, continue to deny wrongdoing despite paying the settlement, records show. Eastern Oklahoma Youth Services was under contract with DHS and a worker there had repeatedly checked on Kelsey. The worker, Jean Bonner, last visited Kelsey and her mother hours before Kelsey’s death.
At the mother’s trial, Bonner testified she had concerns about some of the problems she found during home visits but never enough to call police.
Asked by a prosecutor if she might have missed something during these visits, given that Kelsey died, Bonner said, “I don’t know.”
Lance Briggs’ attorneys will get 40 percent of the settlement plus $29,902 for expenses.
About $345,100 will remain. Judge Timothy DeGuisti said he will rule at another hearing whether the mother will get anything.
Lance Briggs’ attorneys, Joe E. White Jr. and Derek Burch, told The Oklahoman on Monday the mother should not get even “one red cent.”
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