Roseville mother Denise McGrath Wilder was sentenced Friday to 10 years and four months in prison in the 2012 alcohol poisoning death of her 2-year-old daughter.
In May, Wilder pleaded no contest to two counts of felony child abuse and one count of child neglect resulting in the death of a child. Wilder was first arrested April 4, 2012, for what was then deemed the homicide of her daughter McKinley Wilder. At the time, authorities said McKinley was found intoxicated at her parent’s suburban Roseville home. Denise Wilder was the only adult present and had been out of contact with her family for several days.
The coroner’s report said McKinley died due to acute alcohol toxicity and acute malnutrition. Authorities later revealed that Wilder’s 5-year-old daughter was violently ill from alcohol consumption.
Wilder’s attorney Kresta Daly described the child’s death as a “terrible accident” driven by a psychotic break after months of emotional battery suffered during a bitter divorce. She said Wilder broke down while emptying her ex-husband’s belongings from their home and went to the home of her parents – who were out of town. There, she drank heavily for four days.
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Friday’s sentencing at the Placer County Courthouse in Auburn was tense and emotional. At one point, the judge said that only the plea agreement kept him from sentencing Wilder to more time. In comments to the court, members of Wilder’s family traded charges with her ex-husband.
“Denise is a cold-blooded narcissist,” said Mark Wilder, reading from a lengthy statement. “She should never be allowed to see the light of day.”
Members of Denise Wilder’s family, more than a dozen of whom were in the courtroom to show their support, countered that it was Mark Wilder’s manipulation that drove Denise Wilder to a fragile mental state.
“He enjoyed the battles,” said sister Colleen Ransom. “He is an evil man.”
The two sides offered conflicting statements about a wide range of issues – from parenting to financial dealings – but Placer Superior Court Judge Mark Curry said he didn’t put much weight into the back-and-forth.
What weighed on his mind, he said, was the fact that previous agents of the court had warned Denise Wilder about her alcohol consumption and that she was required to remain sober while she had the kids in her custody.
“The mother was placed on notice. She was warned about the dangers,” Curry said.
Curry said he considered giving Wilder more time than the 10 years and four months, but decided against it because doing so would have allowed her to back out of the May plea agreement. That sentence is about half of the maximum allowable time based on how the crime was charged.
If the case went to trial, the couple’s older daughter, who was 5 years old at the time of the incident, would be required to testify. Both the Placer County prosecutor and Denise Wilder’s attorney said they wanted to spare the child from testifying against her mother. Mark Wilder said his surviving daughter would be willing to testify.
Lisa Botwinik, a Placer County deputy district attorney, defended the plea agreement.
“I thought it was appropriate,” Botwinik said. “We didn’t want to put the other daughter on the stand.”
Curry read to the court a statement from the older daughter, in which she spoke about being hungry and being given bad-tasting water and about her sister being cold and unable to wake up.
“She had been warned repeatedly,” Curry said of Denise Wilder. “This is more than leaving the kids in the car. This was a conscious act. If it wasn’t part of the plea agreement, I’d give her more.”