Alleged child abuser enters plea <br><i>Worst abuse case ever, Cottonwood police say</i>

Michelle L Marro, 23, and Todd Benjamin Wolf, 27, both of Cottonwood, appeared before Judge Howard D. Hinson Jr.'s Division 4 court Tuesday.

Marro pled guilty to felony reckless child abuse, entering into a plea agreement with the prosecution, having pleaded not guilty earlier in the case. Prosecuting attorney Joseph Butner said the charges may be dropped against Wolf in light of Marro's entering into the plea agreement.

According to a Cottonwood Police Department report, Marro and Wolf were arrested Aug. 13, and face charges of child abuse.

Police report that officers were dispatched to Verde Valley Medical Center's emergency room regarding a child suffering severe internal injuries consistent with child abuse.

According to police records, Marro's 19-month-old son was immediately transported via air ambulance to Barrow Neurological Institute in Phoenix for treatment of internal head injury and retinal detachment.

The child's condition was not disclosed, but a representative from Child Protective Services said Marro has lost custody of her son, William, who is nearly 2 years old.

Judge Hinson spoke to the distraught Marro who was crying and shaking as she stood before the bench.

Hinson read the penalties Marro would face if a trial would ensue and those that she faces if entering into a plea agreement and thoroughly discussed the consequences of her plea.

Hinson said if Marro pleads guilty to child abuse, a class three felony, she may be sentenced from three to eight years in prison and fined $150,000, ordered to pay restitution to the victim as well as serving probation of up to five years.

Butner said the plea agreement would be acceptable, but "a lot depends on Marro's testimony. The State would be willing to place Ms. Marro on probation, if it is acceptable to the court."

Butner produced photographs of the victim for the defense, and then presented them to Hinson.

"These injuries, according to the victim's physician, are consistent with shaken-baby syndrome. We have to consider how the injuries occurred and the reckless care that Ms. Marro and Todd Wolf exhibited. The state is willing to address this case as a treatment rather than an punishment issue, depending on Ms. Marro."

Defense attorney Timothy W. Grier said prison would be more detrimental in this case than probation, adding that mental illness is a factor.

He said Marro has recently been diagnosed as being bipolar, is seeking emotional counseling and is on medication to address her mental health.

Marro then spoke to Hinson, saying that her son was accident prone and blamed Wolf's two girls, ages 3 and 8, for the injuries William Marro sustained, sending him to the hospital on two separate occasions in 2004.

She said she and Wolf had bought a home together in Cottonwood, and Wolf's daughters were rough with him.

"He would also go into the garage and injure himself with tools," she said.

Judge Hinson asked Marro how William was injured on Aug. 13, and she responded, "he climbed a chair and fell off while Mr.Wolf was watching him. I was in school."

But medical officials involved in the case say the bruises sustained were from an adult's hand.

According to Cottonwood Police officials, contact was made with the attending physician at VVMC who told officers that the child was suffering from bleeding and bruising on the upper left side of his brain and from severe deep tissue bruising to the face, chest and thigh areas.

According to police, the child's injuries appear to be consistent with those made by slapping and by the knuckles of an adult's hand.

The report states further that the bruising on the child's body appeared to be in varying stages of healing, ranging in color from deep purple to yellow-brown.

Medical authorities at St. Joseph's Hospital said after being examined by several doctors, the child was determined to have sustained internal injuries that are consistent with shaken-baby syndrome, according to police.

Police allege that the physician had reported that the child had previously been transported via helicopter to a hospital in Phoenix about two months prior to Aug. 13 for a similar injury. Marro and Wolf, her live-in boyfriend, were under investigation by Child Protective Services for this previous incident.

The report states further, that because the infant's injuries were in various stages of healing, it is suspected that there were several incidents of abuse.

At the couples' residence, located in the 70th block of S. Ninth St. in Cottonwood, police allegedly seized a pipe containing methamphetamine residue in Wolf's pocket.

Hinson accepted Morro's plea of guilty and set a date of sentencing for Jan 18 at 3 p.m.

A pre-trial conference was set for Wolf on Jan 5 at 10:30 a.m.

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