Blue Springs woman resentenced, released despite life sentences for caging child who died

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BLUE SPRINGS, Mo. — A woman convicted of felony child abuse in connection to the 1990 death of Brandi Gonzalez is now out of prison. The little girl’s parents want to know why.

In 1994, 37-year-old Jacquelyn de la Cruz was sentenced to two life sentences plus 67 years for what prosecutors called a heinous crime.

“She made her kids put hot water in the microwave, heat it up and throw it on them while they were out in a cold garage in the dog cages,” Brandi’s mother Morinda Gonzalez said.

Three-year-old Brandi Gonzalez spent the week before her death at her great aunt’s Blue Springs home.

“You don’t think as a parent if you let your child go to someone that’s family that they are going to hurt their child so severely that it takes their life away from them,” her mother said.

She was originally charged with murder, but the charge dropped. Then De la Cruz was convicted of 11 counts of felony child abuse, assault and child endangering.

Court documents reveal she hit Brandi on the head, punched her in the stomach and liked to give her alcohol and to make her keep running and drinking. They also found burns on her buttocks and genitals.

“We were told by the parole board as long as she’s not admitting to what she did, she would not get out,” Gonzalez said.

De la Cruz had a parole hearing scheduled June 1.

“I emailed my statement to the parole board, but none of that mattered,” Gonzalez said.

Because what she didn’t know is De la Cruz went before a judge three days earlier and got a new sentence in a plea deal on just two of the counts. That sentence was 30 years, time served.

De la Cruz appealed that she received ineffective counsel, and in 2019, prosecutor Jean Peters Baker wrote in her response to a judge she “prayed the Court deny the Motion to Vacate, Set Aside, or Correct Judgment and Sentence.”

But ultimately prosecutors decided it would be difficult to re-try the case 30 years later and agreed to the resentencing to preserve two of the convictions on the original 11 counts.

Prosecutors said they’ve been in touch with family, but both Brandi’s mother and father told FOX4 they had no idea prosecutors agreed to a deal that let the woman with two life sentences walk out of Chillicothe Correctional a week later. They haven’t been able to track down any other family members who were notified prior to the hearing either.

“It’s not fair to us, and it’s not fair to Brandi. My daughter was only 3 years old,” Gonzalez said.

Gonzalez said she came forward hoping the courts make changes on their notification policies, but also because she wants people to know what the woman now living in the Kansas City metro as Jacquelyn Barkley did.

“No one is going to know the whole facts of what this woman is capable of doing to a child,” she said.

A spokesperson for the Jackson County Prosecutor’s Office points out a life sentence in Missouri only means 30 years, the sentences were concurrent and De la Cruz could have been granted parole in June or sometime after.

Her attorney said she pursued resentencing so she wouldn’t have to register as a sex offender. That’s also something the family was told she’d have to do if she ever got out. Missouri’s sex offender registry does not currently include De la Cruz.

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