JAY — A former foster parent and award-winning adoptive mother who was convicted of child abuse was sentenced Wednesday and will serve about three years in prison, a prosecutor said.
After the charges against her were amended, Deidre Matthews, 50, formerly of Jay and now residing in Independence, Missouri, pleaded no contest in Delaware County District Court to 12 counts of child abuse, child neglect and child endangerment.
Matthews received a life sentence, all but four years of which was suspended. She will receive credit for the year she spent in the county jail, said Assistant District Attorney Nick Lelecas, adding that she will have to serve at least 85 percent of the sentence.
She and her former husband, Jerry Matthews, were recognized as Department of Human Services Adoptive Parents of the Year for northeast Oklahoma in 2006.
The couple received the honor after finalizing the adoption of some the children they were raising and before any allegations of abuse were made, said Sheree Powell, Department of Human Services spokeswoman.
“When they adopted the children, their home was not in the condition it later fell into, and they didn’t have all the animals they had at the time the abuse allegations were occurring,” Powell said.
While married, the couple lived with nine children in an animal feces-infested two-bedroom, two-bathroom mobile home in the rural Jay area, reports indicate.
The family had more than 50 animals, including three spider monkeys and 11 lemurs, court records show.
Civil and criminal court documents allege that under the care of Deidre Matthews, the oldest teenager was forced to kill her pet kitten by bashing its head into a tree; another child was handcuffed and placed in a dog cage; children were made to stand outside or walk around the house naked; and children were kept home from school to avoid detection of bruises, welts and wounds.
Other allegations of abuse include beating the children, allowing monkeys to bite the two teenage daughters, and Deidre Matthews’ refusal to seek medical treatment for them and withholding food and water for two days as punishment, according to court testimony.
Jerry Matthews pleaded no contest in July 2016 to two counts of child neglect and received a suspended life sentence.
The pair and 19 current and former DHS employees with were named in civil lawsuits filed in Delaware County District Court and U.S. District Court in Tulsa alleging that 17 incidents were reported to DHS from January 2004 to March 1, 2014, but were not investigated properly. There are also allegations that DHS workers concealed evidence of abuse and alerted Deidre Matthews when they would be making “surprise” visits, a violation of DHS protocol.
Neither Matthews now has custody of the children, records show.
Matthews will have to undergo a drug, alcohol and mental health assessment, Lelecas said. She is ordered to stay away from the victims, and once she completes her prison term, she will be on probation and prohibited from having custody of children or having children live in her home.