A Hall County Superior Court judge sentenced a South Hall teenager Monday to seven years in prison in the death of her newborn daughter.
Judge Andrew Fuller also placed Haley Brook Clark, 18, on probation for a total of 33 years on two counts of cruelty to a child in the first degree.
He said he would have imposed a harsher sentence, as much as 15 years in prison, if not for a strong group of family, friends and others supporting her. The courtroom in Gainesville was packed with people awaiting word of her sentence.
“You have been given a great opportunity from where you found yourself” on July 18, 2012, when Clark was charged with malice and felony murder in the death of 9-day-old Olivia Clark.
Still, Fuller noted, “there are consequences for your actions for which you must pay a price.”
Fuller also required Clark, as part of probation, to pay a $2,000 fine and undergo a mental health evaluation that she would need to pay for, as well as going through an anger management program, among other conditions.
Clark pleaded guilty Aug. 5 to the lesser charges, with a sentencing hearing taking place last week before Fuller.
The defense was seeking a sentence with no prison time; the prosecution, the maximum 40-year sentence, 20 of which would be served in prison.
Fuller said he considered several mitigating factors in sentencing, including Clark’s age, no prior criminal history and a history of “good acts,” including humane society work.
He said Clark “probably couldn’t have presented a stronger network of support.
“The court cannot recall ever having that level of testimony (during sentencing).”
He told Clark that even the Hall County District Attorney’s Office “provided you an opportunity” by agreeing to the lesser charges, recognizing it as “the morally correct thing to do.”
Fuller added: “The court would not have looked forward to sentencing (Clark) to life in prison,” or the mandatory sentence upon a murder conviction.
“This is not a decision the public will ever understand ... but the public will never know all the facts (in the case),” he said.
Clark was charged after Hall County emergency medical units and sheriff’s deputies responded to an emergency call made by her younger brother. He told authorities his niece was not breathing at the home in the 5200 block of Hopewell Lane.
The child was taken to Northeast Georgia Medical Center in Gainesville and pronounced dead later that day.
In the 911 call, the operator asked the caller to try several procedures, including mouth-to-mouth resuscitation and chest compressions, to revive the child while help was on the way.
At one point, the operator asked, “Is there anything in her mouth?”
“My sister said that she threw up on her leg,” the caller said.
At a preliminary hearing for Clark on Aug. 31, in Hall County Magistrate Court, an investigator with the Hall County Sheriff’s Office testified that Clark admitted to suffocating the infant while she was feeding her.
The investigators at that hearing also testified that Clark was at a party the night before the incident and came home intoxicated, then argued with her father about where she was.
Fuller took issue with Clark on several matters, including her testimony in court.
“I was not convinced it was a sincere emotional presentation,” he said.
Also, he told Clark that “you have, in your life, chosen to lie” or to be deceptive to others, including authorities.
“Although you professed your love for Olivia ... actions speak louder than words,” Fuller said. “Every act you took suggests to the contrary.”
“Olivia Clark is dead as result of what happened on July 18,” the judge said, adding that in Georgia’s judicial system, “victims are not forgotten and they are not neglected.”