Can we ask the obvious question here? How did dad MATTHEW ROLAND get custody of this child, who was apparently battered, sexually abused, and tortured from day one, and finally murdered? What judge in his or her infinite wisdom made the decision that this child should live with this sicko piece of sh--? Names please?
Dad gets life in killing of 4-year-old Kristina
Matthew Roland pleaded no contest to first-degree murder.
By Karen Voyles
Published: Saturday, April 24, 2010 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, April 23, 2010 at 10:56 p.m.
TRENTON - Almost a year after 4-year-old Kristina Hepp was found lifeless inside her Waccasassa mobile home, her father pleaded no contest Friday morning in her death and was ordered to spend the rest of his life in prison.
Matthew Roland, 24, pleaded no contest to first-degree murder and aggravated child abuse. Circuit Judge Ysleta McDonald sentenced him to a mandatory sentence of life in prison without parole.
Roland had nothing to say at the hearing other than to answer McDonald's questions with sometimes barely audible responses of "Yes ma'am," and "No ma'am." For much of the hearing, he sat impassively beside his attorney, his face showing no emotion.
State Attorney Bill Cervone initially sought the death penalty for Roland because of the nature of Kristina's death. The life sentence was part of a plea deal that avoided trial.
Kristina died April 27, 2009, inside the home where Roland had been living with her and his girlfriend, Chelci Folds, 20, of Mayo. Following an autopsy, the Medical Examiner's Office issued a determination that Kristina could have survived had she received medical care.
In court on Friday morning, Chief Assistant State Attorney Jeanne Singer told McDonald that if the case had gone to trial, witnesses would have testified that Roland had been "torturing or maliciously punishing, causing corneal and genital injuries and other injuries."
Singer also said there would have been testimony that the injuries found on Kristina during an autopsy "had been inflicted over time" and were the result of Roland using his hands and a belt to beat Kristina.
When McDonald asked for victim impact statements, Kristina's maternal grandmother, Lynn DeJarnette, of Orlando, spoke through tears as she talked to McDonald about the potential that was lost when Kristina died.
"Our family will never know what Kristina could have been," DeJarnette said.
Kristina's stepfather, Jeremy Brown, of Trenton, shook as he made his statement, at one point turning toward Roland and warning him about the dangers he will face in prison.
Brown, who has served time in prison, noted that those serving time for harming children are regularly targeted by other inmates.
Kristina's mother, Elizabeth Brown, sobbed as she presented her statement and urged McDonald to reconsider the death penalty.
"He (Roland) has a good reason to be put to death," Brown said. "She didn't have no reason at all."
Although Roland was given an opportunity to make a statement, he declined. The eight people in court to support him also declined to speak.
At the end of the sentencing, as the handcuffed Roland was being led from the courtroom, he turned to the group and said, "I love you." The group left the courtroom silently a few minutes later.
Absent from court was Folds, who had moved into Roland's home in February 2009, a day or two before he was awarded custody of Kristina.
In an arrest report filed by the Gilchrist County Sheriff's Office when Roland initially was charged in the case, investigators wrote that Folds was at work at a sandwich shop on April 26 and Roland was at home with Kristina.
Roland allegedly told deputies that while watching his daughter, he "got into it" with her that night and spanked her. Deputies also said Roland told them he hit her with a belt the afternoon of April 26.
Folds told investigators that when Roland picked her up from work that afternoon, Kristina was in her car seat and did not look right.
Folds said there was bruising around one of the girl's eyes and that she appeared sleepy. Kristina was not hungry and was put into bed when the couple returned home.
Folds said Kristina began to have breathing problems later in the evening and that Roland tried to give the lethargic child - who previously had been diagnosed with asthma - a nebulizer treatment.
Kristina then was put in bed with the couple. Folds told deputies that during the night, Kristina apparently soiled the bed, so Roland took the girl to her own bed.
Early the next morning, Roland woke Folds and told her Kristina was not breathing. Roland and Folds said they took the child to the living room, according to the Sheriff's Office, and put her down on the floor. Roland then tried to give her another nebulizer treatment and CPR before calling 911, the Sheriff's Office reported.
According to investigators, Folds spent at least 12 hours with Roland and the injured child without taking steps to care for her injuries.
Folds was charged with child neglect with great bodily harm. She received five years' probation as part of a plea deal in the case. Prosecutors identified Folds as the key witness against Roland.
Eighth Judicial Circuit Medical Examiner Dr. Martha Burt, who went to the Waccasassa mobile home where Kristina was found dead, told Gilchrist County sheriff's investigators that Kristina's multiple injuries were survivable had she received timely medical attention.