Woman sentenced to prison for child abuse

February 27, 2019

PHOENIX — A Bullhead City woman has been sentenced to federal prison for endangering her newborn daughter during a swim at Lake Mohave last summer.

U.S. District Court Judge Douglas L. Rayes imposed a 30-month prison term Monday for Justine Renee Kirklen, 33, who earlier pleaded guilty to child abuse.

She will be on supervised release after prison.

Bullhead City police department spokeswoman Emily Fromelt said officers assisted the National Park Service after receiving reports that a naked woman with a baby was walking toward the lake near Davis Dam on June 9, 2018. Federal Public Defender Jon Sands claimed a long history of mental health issues exacerbated by daily drug use led to the dangerous swim.

“The combination of her suffering from post-partum depression, and having a substance abuse psychotic disorder at the time of the offense, is the only reason that Ms. Kirklen would have ever been walking naked, down the street, on a rocky road, with her child, heading toward the lake,” Sands wrote in his sentencing memorandum. It said that Kirklen’s drug abuse history could be traced to a traffic accident for which she was prescribed opioid medications to treat back pain, which led to drug addiction.

“Her judgment was so impaired that she posed a danger to her child when she walked into the lake with the water so deep that she was holding her baby in one hand, while swimming/treading water with her other hand,” Sands stated.

Fromelt said that witnesses intervened at some point to help rescue the infant. She said bystanders assured Kirklen that her baby was OK when she expressed distress that she had killed her.

Kirklen was taken to Western Arizona Regional Medical Center in Bullhead City and a subsequent mental health evaluation determined that she suffered from a “substance-induced psychotic disorder,” according to court records.

Sands’ memorandum said Kirklen accepted full responsibility for the incident and that she had been doing better after eight months of sobriety while incarcerated. Sands told the court that Kirklen recognizes she is incapable of raising her daughter and has voluntarily terminated her parental rights.

Sands contended that giving up her daughter and motherhood was an “ultimate sacrifice” and strong dose of punishment for Kirklen. Sands said that the baby is in the final stages of being adopted.