At the beginning of 2013, we were contacted via Facebook by Whitney Matney, an Arkansas mom who had just endured the horror of catching her babysitter abusing her daughter on hidden camera. Now 9 months later, a verdict has been handed down. What follows is Whitney’s personal account of the conviction, trial and sentencing, and her feelings on the outcome – in her own words. Also included is footage of the abuse (warning: disturbing images):
“Melissa pled guilty to Endangering the Welfare of a Minor in the 1st Degree, a class D felony, on October 7, 2013. If this had gone to trial, the maximum sentence she could have received was 6 years in prison, but she only would have had to serve 1 year of that. She also could have gotten off with nothing if a jury had chosen not to convict her. She took the plea from the prosecutor of 90 days in jail and 4 years probation.
At the end of her 4 years probation, she can petition the court for relief under Act 346, which is the First Time Offender Act. It allows for a first time offender to have his or her felony expunged. The Act can only be used once, so if she commits another felony, that felony will stay on her record. The Act is also not to be used for serious felonies and acts of violence. I’m not sure what the court will do when she petitions them, but I don’t see how this isn’t an act of violence that would prevent her from using Act 346. I hope the court recognizes this as a serious act of violence and denies her petition!
Also, if Melissa is able to prove that she has a job, she can get work release, where she gets to go to work for whatever her schedule is, and then drive back to jail at night and on the weekends. At this point, she has been unable to provide this documentation, and will be in jail for 88 days (because she got 2 days of credit for when she was originally taken in).
Melissa watched Raylee for four-and-a-half weeks. The first night after she watched Raylee, I went to take Raylee to bed, and she started clinging to me and screaming like she was scared. I’d never heard her scream like that before. I just thought she wasn’t wanting to go to bed. This went on for 2 weeks, and all the while, Melissa was telling me that Raylee was taking 4 hour naps during the day, which was highly unusual. I took Raylee to the doctor, and he told me she was behind on getting her molars, so her schedule may be off for a while.
A couple of days later, Raylee started crying and clinging to me when the doorbell rang every morning when Melissa arrived. All the websites I read and doctors I spoke with confirmed that around one-year-old, children start experiencing separation anxiety. Because she had just turned one, I thought she was experiencing separation anxiety, and she knew mommy and daddy left for work and school when Melissa got there.
I went home for lunch one day, and Melissa told me Raylee had been napping for an hour. I thought it was a little strange that Raylee was napping so early, but if she was tired, I was ok with it. While I was eating, Raylee woke up from her nap. I played with her and held her for a little while, and then I decided to take a ten minute nap to try to help my headache go away. About 5 minutes after I left the room, I heard Raylee screaming. I jumped up and ran into the living room, and found Melissa standing there alone. She had put Raylee back in bed, and shut her bedroom door, leaving her in her crib alone. I asked her why she did that, and she said that Raylee was rubbing her eyes, so she thought she was still tired. I found this strange, because Raylee had just woken up from her nap. I told Melissa that Raylee only takes one nap a day.
This incident worried me, and I immediately purchased a nanny cam from BrickHouse Security. The first day that the camera was set up, I caught Melissa shaking Raylee 3 times, and hitting her on her back and bottom while taking her to her bouncer, where she dropped her, and left her for 2 hours. After the third time she shook Raylee, she dropped her from a standing position, and then she found the camera and turned it around to face the wall.
I called the police as soon as I saw the video. The police escorted us to the emergency room where the doctors did extensive testing on Raylee. They performed an MRI and X-Rays of her entire body. The next day I had to have her eyes dilated to check for bleeding in her brain. She had to visit a child psychologist twice. Raylee changed after Melissa became her nanny. She went from a happy, loving child who slept through the night, and was interactive with people, to being scared of being left alone, and having to sleep with us, because she couldn’t sleep in her room. If we put her in bed after she had fallen asleep, she would wake up every night screaming in the middle of the night. The screams weren’t a regular baby crying. They were screams of fear. It broke our hearts to hear her going through that.
The police arrested Melissa two days later. She was bailed out the day after she was taken to jail. We were scared of what she might do to our family in retaliation, so we got an alarm system on our home, as well as mounted cameras that we can watch online, and that record everything.
Melissa’s full name is Melissa Renee Medema. The Judge was Judge Robin Green. The deputy prosecutor was Stephanie McLemore of Benton County, Arkansas, and Melissa’s attorney was Herb Southern of Fayetteville, AR.
My thoughts on the matter:
I don’t think Melissa got nearly the amount of time she deserved. I didn’t know she was getting the benefit of Act 346, and I’m extremely upset that she might get her felony expunged. There is no question in my mind that she hurt Raylee every day that she watched her. The camera had only been set up for 2 hours, and I got footage of her shaking Raylee three times, hitting her, and dropping her repeatedly. If this was the only time she had tried to hurt Raylee, I’m certain I wouldn’t have gotten so much abuse in such a short amount of time. The look on Melissa’s face in those videos was enough to know that she’s nothing but pure evil. In the final video of her shaking Raylee, right before she turned the camera around, Raylee wasn’t even crying. It wasn’t like Melissa had any reason to be frustrated with a screaming baby, not that that would ever be an excuse, but it might help shed some light on why she did it. She just shook her because she’s a horrible person. When I set this camera up, I thought I was going to get footage of her leaving Raylee in one spot. I never in a million years dreamed I would see what I saw. It never crossed my mind that she was physically abusing Raylee. I lost so much sleep over that. I felt guilty for misreading the signs and leaving Raylee with such a horrible person. I am so grateful and lucky that I caught it when I did, before Raylee could be seriously injured.
I am going to try to get the laws changed to be more harsh against child abuse, whether there is an injury that results or not. I think the emotional harm it does to a child is just as bad as the physical harm.
I have already been working with Senator Jon Woods and Representative Greg Leding of the Arkansas state legislature to get a public child abuse registry in place for parents to refer to when looking for a nanny or babysitter. Oftentimes, parents will leave their child with a friend or neighbor while they go to the store, or to run errands, with no ability to check that person’s criminal background. People don’t think to do a criminal background check on each and every friend and neighbor they have. It costs money, and requires that person’s signature for each check, as well as a 6 week wait for the results. There needs to be a quick, immediate way to check for a background of child abuse for babysitters and nannies. The legislature passed the bill this year mandating that the Arkansas Crime Information Center come up with the details and cost of the registry by September 1, 2014. In 2015, there will be a new bill incorporating all of the details of the registry, and we are hoping it will be passed and implemented as soon as possible.”