Judge adds two more years after former daycare owner makes plea to review her sentence for child cruelty

Published 5:29 am Thursday, December 8, 2022

A former daycare owner’s request for Judge Kathy Johnson to reconsider her sentence for child cruelty backfired when the judge gave her two more years in prison.

Lysa Richardson’s sentence increased from 7 years to 9 years at hard labor on Wednesday after she and one of her former employees, Bridget Delaughter, made an emotional plea to the judge.

Richardson formerly owned Noah’s Ark Christian Childcare, which served families in the Mississippi River communities of Vidalia, Louisiana, and Natchez, Mississippi. The daycare was shut down by Louisiana State Police in October 2021 amid a child cruelty investigation. Concordia Parish Sheriff’s Office seized video footage of the employees slapping, dragging and hitting children with wooden paint sticks. The investigation was given to LSP due to a conflict of interest. Concordia Parish Sheriff David Hedrick said his son was one of the children at the daycare.

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His investigators observed more than 80 incidences of violence on a surveillance system that would only record up to two weeks of video footage, he said.

Richardson and three of her employees were arrested. In June, all of them pleaded guilty to child cruelty charges and were sentenced in September.

Richardson pleaded guilty to three counts of cruelty to a juvenile and her sentence was increased to three years for each count on Wednesday.

Delaughter pleaded guilty to three counts of cruelty to a juvenile and was sentenced to nine years at hard labor. Her sentence was unchanged.

Julianne Perales pleaded guilty to six counts of cruelty to a juvenile and was sentenced to 12 years at hard labor. A motion to reconsider her sentence has been tentatively set for a hearing on Jan. 19.

Taylor Ragonesi, who was 23 weeks pregnant at the time of her sentencing, received three years at hard labor suspended with three years of supervised probation and was ordered to complete 1,000 hours of community service and an anger management class when her baby is six months old.

On Wednesday, defense attorney Kevin Colbert argued to Johnson that there had been a prior child cruelty case at the same daycare that involved an employee, Danneille Shuff, who received only six months of probation and a $300 fine and court costs.

Colbert said the sentences seem “a little excessive” with both Ragonesi and Shuff receiving probation instead of prison sentences. He acknowledged that Ragonesi also has medical conditions that put her and her unborn child at risk, which the judge considered during sentencing.

In July 2020, Shuff was arrested on the felony charge of cruelty to a juvenile. Jan. 13, 2021, she was allowed to plea to a misdemeanor charge of simple battery, which the parents of the abused child requested at that time, said District Attorney Brad Burget.

That was well before surveillance video footage of multiple children being abused by multiple employees came to light, he said.

Burget argued that, in hindsight, the prior incident in 2020 puts more weight on Richardson’s charges.

“It was a pattern,” he said. “It was a system. (Richardson) had the responsibility to teach and train her employees. … She put all of this in motion.”

Colbert also let Richardson’s children, ages 13 and 7, and Delaughter’s children, 14, 13 and 12, testify in court on their mothers’ behalf.

The children all said they missed their mom and the three months without them while they have been in jail have been hard.

Richardson embraced her children and sobbed in the courtroom. One of Delaughter’s children said, “She is my best friend.” Another said, “She is my backbone.”

Johnson said she never heard Richardson say she was sorry for what she did.

“I’m sorry,” Richardson said. “I thought when I was here three months ago I did apologize but if I didn’t, I am doing that now. … I’m not asking not to be punished. I will do anything. I will move to another parish; I will do community service; I will go under house arrest. … My kids need me as much as these parents’ kids need them.”

Delaughter said, “I’ve had time to think and I am sorry. If that means anything at all, I am deeply sorry. … It’s not just these families that were ruined. Mine was also.”

Johnson said, “I don’t normally do this,” in regard to increasing Richardson’s sentence. She added she was not aware of Shuff’s case before Richardson was sentenced and that it made a difference. Johnson allowed the defendants time to visit with their children before they were transported back to prison.