·  Legal News, Analysis, & Commentary

Verdicts & Settlements

Napa, California, to Pay $5 Million in Child Death Case

— January 14, 2019

The wrongful death lawsuit filed by a family of a three-year-old girl who was murdered by her mother alleged Napa, California, police and county social workers didn’t adequately investigate abuse allegations.  Napa County will now pay $5 million to settle the case.

The city and county of Napa in Northern California has agreed to pay $5 million to relatives of a 3-year-old girl who was tortured and killed by her mother and her mother’s boyfriend.  The December 2018 settlement was recently announced in a wrongful death lawsuit over the 2014 killing of Kayleigh Slusher. Sarah Lynn Krueger, 27, the child’s mother, and Krueger’s 29-year-old boyfriend, Ryan Scott Warner, were both found guilty of first-degree murder with the special circumstance of torture in the death of Kayleigh.  The received life sentences for the crime.  The money will go to the girl’s father and grandparents.

The wrongful death lawsuit filed by the family alleged Napa, California, police and county social workers didn’t adequately investigate abuse allegations prior to Kayleigh’s death.  Her body was placed in a freezer for days then placed in her bed, where police found it.  The city and county responded they followed state law in investigating abuse allegations but agreed to make changes to the way child welfare cases are handled moving forward.

An autopsy revealed Kayleigh had 41 injuries on her body with the fatal injury that caused her small intestine to rupture.  The child was found dead in her bed in February 2014.  Police reported she died from blunt force trauma and was found partially frozen at her mother’s apartment after her body was placed in the freezer.  The couple told authorities they thought Kayleigh died after she drank something that was poisonous.

Photo by Rodolfo Sanches Carvalho on Unsplash

“Neither of them had any legitimate explanation for the multitude of bruises and injuries on her body,” said Deputy District Attorney Kecia Lind, adding, “It was tough.  The medical examiner described the amount of pain and suffering she would have been in during the time she was dying.  It wasn’t a quick process…She was in [the freezer] for at least a number of hours.  Her body was still extremely cold to the touch when the officers found her. We don’t know for sure how long she was in the freezer.”

The girl had been abused for months leading up to her death, and neighbors noticed a change in Kayleigh weeks prior.

“Neighbors in the apartment complex had reported seeing her looking malnourished and appearing with bruises the weeks prior to her dying,” says Lind.  One neighbor said the normally bubbly and outgoing toddler had lost her “sparkle.”

Linds recalled, “There were calls made to the police by the maternal grandmother days prior to her being found but nothing that was cause for the child to be removed from the home.”

During closing arguments in the case, Krueger’s attorney, Jim McEntee, disclosed that his client had been using methamphetamine leading up the death of her daughter.  She had been investigated in the past by child protective services.

Lind says Warner moved into the California apartment about six months before Kayleigh’s death and “they basically had her in the apartment with the two of them at all time.”

The investigation began in 2014 when Napa police received a 911 call from the couple’s friend to check on Kayleigh’s welfare.  The friend later told police that he went over to the apartment the night before and discovered Kayleigh was dead.

“[The friend] didn’t want any part of it so he told them to call the police,” says Lind. “They did not call the police, so he took it upon himself to call.”

The couple fled and were soon after found at an IHOP restaurant where they were taken into custody.


5 Things to Know: Case of 3-Year-Old Who Was Killed and Stuffed in Freezer by Mom and Boyfriend

California county to pay $5M over torture-killing of girl

Join the conversation!