Convicted child abuser freed after state error

GLENDALE — Amy Ennis, a former baby sitter convicted in 2004 of abusing a Glendale couple’s newborn, has been released from prison for a second time after a Los Angeles County Superior Court judge ruled that state corrections officials were grossly negligent when they mistakenly freed her early and then re-incarcerated her two years later.

Acting on a Superior Court order, the state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation discharged Ennis from the California Institution for Women in Chino on July 28, agency spokesman Luis Patino said.

“The mistake made by the [department of corrections] has caused a lot of pain to a lot people,” Ennis said in statement through her attorney. “I just want to move forward and leave this ordeal behind me.”

The father of the abused newborn, Bernie Van De Yacht, said the decision was a major blow after his family and prosecutors fought to get Ennis to serve her entire six-year prison sentence.

Van De Yacht‘s son, Joseph, now 6, suffered permanent optical nerve damage from abuse that spanned from July to October 2004. Joseph was 3 1/2 weeks old when the abuse started. In addition to the damage to his vision, he also suffered bone fractures.

“She is walking free today without serving half her sentence….” he said. “It makes me, as a father, sick to my stomach.”

But Ennis’ attorney, Paul Wallin, said the damage had already been done, and his client now lives in fear of retribution if she speaks out about the agency.

“They have ruined her life,” he said.

Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Patricia Schnegg ordered Ennis’ release July 21, stating that her reincarceration two years after state officials mistakenly released her violated her due process.

Schnegg stated that the agency’s “actions in this case are more than ‘unfortunate.’”

“It this case, they rise to the level of gross negligence,” Schnegg wrote.

The order came after Ennis’ attorney challenged her detention, arguing that it was unlawful, especially since she had already started a new life for herself following her prison release.

She was engaged and pregnant with her second child when parole agents rearrested her in December.

While in prison, 36-year-old Ennis gave birth to her child, who was temporarily removed from her custody.

At the time, prison officials said Ennis would serve her full sentence and be released in spring 2013.

Ennis, who confessed to abusing Joseph Van De Yacht while caring for him, was sentenced in 2006 to six years in prison.

But she was released early in 2008 after prison officials said an employee miscalculated her end date and made a “regrettable error.”

After releasing her, prison officials placed Ennis on parole for two years and three months. At one point during her parole term, they placed her on non-revocable parole status, an unsupervised parole for nonviolent, serious offenders.

Schnegg said that Ennis had relied on the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation’s “representations, to her detriment.”

The agency’s “active misadvise to petitioner regarding her eligibility for parole prevents us from charging her with even constructive knowledge of her proper prison term,” according to the court order.

Wallin, Ennis’ attorney, said a civil lawsuit against the agency may be the next step, but he added he wasn’t entirely sure Ennis would be willing to put herself and family through another legal ordeal.

“It’s just a compelling and unbelievable story of abuse by the government to a poor person,” he said.

The lead prosecutor in the criminal case, Oscar Plascencia, said he was disappointed by the recent court order. And he noted that the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office lacked the jurisdiction to appeal the decision.

“There is no happy ending to this story — as if there ever could be,” Bernie Van De Yacht said.

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