Discussing my correspondence with inmate Misty Stoddard and reading her letter.
Melissa Stoddard’s biological mother, Lisha Stoddard, addressed her words to Misty Stoddard, the child’s stepmother.
“I no longer get to look into my daughter’s big beautiful eyes or tuck her in at night or feel her hugs,” Fraivillig said, reading Lisha Stoddard’s words aloud in the courtroom Thursday. “For that, I will never forgive you. You are a poor excuse for a mother and a human being.”
A few minutes later, Sarasota County Circuit Judge Frederick Mercurio sentenced Misty Stoddard to an additional 30 years in prison for her conviction on an aggravated abuse charge in the death of 11-year-old Melissa.
Misty Stoddard, 37, of Sarasota County, also automatically received a mandatory sentence of life in prison without parole after a jury also convicted her of first-degree murder in June.
Before her sentence, Misty Stoddard stood before the judge and said she accepted responsibility for what happened.
“I loved Melissa. I still love Melissa,” she said. “I take full responsibility for the actions and inactions that led up to this event . . . If I could change it, I would.”
Her defense team has 30 days to appeal.
Thursday’s sentencing was the first in a case that began in December 2012 when first responders arrived at the house in rural eastern Sarasota County and tried to save Melissa, who was not breathing.
A brain-dead Melissa was on life support for several days until she died from a lack of oxygen to the brain. Court documents show the child had been tied to a board and her mouth duct-taped until she suffocated.
Later this month, the second trial in connection to her death is expected to begin as her biological father, Kenneth Stoddard, is charged with aggravated manslaughter, aggravated child abuse and tampering with evidence.
Misty Stoddard was convicted of felony murder, meaning that Melissa died during the commission of a felony — in this case, aggravated child abuse.
Fraivillig said she believes Mercurio’s sentence was appropriate after Melissa was tortured and suffocated.
“What is even worse was she was a special-needs child,” Fraivillig said. “She couldn’t articulate to anyone how she was suffering at the hands of Misty Stoddard.
“One can only imagine what the child went through.”
During the weeklong trial, an inmate who briefly shared a cell with Misty Stoddard testified that the stepmother admitted to taping Melissa on the night she stopped breathing.
Misty Stoddard’s teenage son also testified that both Kenneth and Misty Stoddard regularly tied Melissa to a board and duct-taped her mouth to keep her from crying out.
A psychologist, who had been called by the defense but was not allowed to testify in front of the jury, said Misty Stoddard suffered from depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Melissa Stoddard was diagnosed with autism before she was old enough to attend primary school. She struggled when her regular routine changed and spoke basic sentences.
But at her school in Greensboro, she transformed from an unruly student into one of her teacher’s favorite pupils.
Melissa left North Carolina in the summer of 2012 because of trouble brewing in the home where she lived with her biological mother and older brother.
Her brother was accused of molesting one of his stepsiblings, police records show.
Lisha Stoddard chose to send her daughter to Florida to protect her from her son, according to a Florida Department of Children and Families report.