The Justice Files: ‘Reckless’ foster mom jailed for child’s death

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DUCHESNE, Utah (ABC4 Utah) –  One night cost Lisa Jo Vanderlinden her freedom.

The foster mother Wednesday was sentenced to one year in jail after pleading guilty to child homicide.

In 2018, Vanderlinden was charged with the murder of a two-year-old foster child under her care.  
Wednesday, Vanderlinden appeared before a judge pleading for mercy.

“I am sorry to the biological family,” said a tearful Vanderlinden. “I am sorry to my family and I am sorry that I didn’t do more that night.”

It was the first time Vanderlinden spoke publicly about a moment in time that changed many lives.

The toddler died from injuries caused by physical abuse. The autopsy showed injuries to the child’s head and body. Those injuries according to the state didn’t happen on one occasion.

At her sentencing at the Duchesne County court, the two-year old’s biological mother talked of the void in her life.

“I miss my son very much and I love my son very much,” said Shelby Call. “This is what I will miss, his birthday, holidays, and his big smile. I miss him being with me.”

Call asked that Vanderlinden serve the entire sentence of five-to-life in prison. Up until his death, the biological mother was still part of her son’s life. Vanderlinden was planning to adopt him.

“I  loved him as if he was my own,” said Vanderlindn. “He was going to be mine. I lost my son that day.”

The prosecutor for the attorney general’s office said Vanderlinden had refused to admit to all of his injuries. He also recommended Vanderlinden serve five-years-to-life in prison. Even at her sentencing, Vanderlinden would only admit that it was on the night before his death where she went wrong.

“If I would have known that there was something more going on with his vomiting that night I would have taken him to the doctor,” she said. 

Ed Brass, her attorney said Vanderlinden is only guilty of being reckless not murder. He said there were never any problems with the 40-children she had fostered before. Vanderlinden said four children she was fostering at the time were taken from her.

“I’ve already lost everything and I just want this little peace and be able to go home,” said Vanderlinden.

But Judge Sam Chiara refused her request. And he also rejected the state’s recommendation she spends time in prison. The judge said the allegations were never proven in the trial but based on her plea jail was appropriate. Vanderlinden must report Friday to the Duchesne County jail where she will serve one year behind bars.


Marcos Ortiz
Emmy award winning journalist and producer, reporter of the Justice Files seen nightly on ABC4, begining his career in Blythe California with stops in Green River and Cheyenne Wyoming. He was hired to be KGGM’S political reporter in Santa Fe, New Mexico before arriving in Salt Lake City in 1992 as a general assignments reporter before moving into the crime beat.

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