Vancouver’s Hartley Anderson lived five years and 24 days, her mother said, before the man entrusted with watching her beat her to death.
“She missed her first day of kindergarten this last fall, and as time passes, I will be reminded of all the things she is missing out on as her friends are experiencing them,” Nataasha Tafoya told a judge Friday afternoon during sentencing for Ryan M. Burge.
Burge, 38, was sentenced in Clark County Superior Court to 40 years in prison for killing Hartley while babysitting the girl.
A jury in February convicted Burge of second-degree murder but was undecided on a charge of first-degree murder, opting instead for first-degree manslaughter. The jury also determined he was guilty of several factors that made his crime particularly egregious: Hartley was vulnerable, he betrayed a position of trust and it was deliberately cruel.
Hartley suffered severe head trauma and died at a Portland children’s hospital.
Tafoya told the court she couldn’t begin to describe the effect her daughter’s death has had on her, as well as family and friends.
“Nov. 2, 2018, was by far the worst day of my life. My life was shattered, crumbled and stolen from me by someone whom I had trusted — I trusted with my whole world. Hartley Jean-Ophelia was my life, she was my mini-me, my best friend,” she said through tears.
The girl’s father, Peter Anderson, described the loss of his daughter as a “weird nightmare.” He told the judge he wished the state would uphold the death penalty.
Vancouver police responded about 5 p.m. Nov. 2, 2018, to the Madison Park Apartments, where emergency responders were treating Hartley’s injuries. Tafoya, identified in court documents by the name Luchau, had called 911 about her unresponsive daughter.
Burge had been babysitting Hartley all day while Tafoya worked and her sons were at school.
In an interview with detectives, Burge said Hartley “threw a temper tantrum” when they left a grocery store, according to court records and trial testimony. When they got home, Burge said he sent Hartley to her room, where she banged her head against a wall repeatedly.
At trial, the prosecution argued voluminous evidence showed that Burge savagely attacked Hartley for throwing a fit. The defense asserted the girl had a history of self-harm and caused her own fatal injuries.
A neurosurgeon at the children’s hospital told a detective Hartley suffered a stroke and massive brain swelling. The doctor said the injuries to her head “could not be self-inflicted,” court records say.
Due to COVID-19 precautions, Burge appeared for Friday’s sentencing via video from the Clark County Jail; the attorneys appeared telephonically.
Burge’s manslaughter conviction was vacated, upon the parties’ request, to avoid double jeopardy. Following discussion of his offender score, the judge determined he faced a sentencing range of 154 to 254 months, or nearly 13 years to 21 years.
Senior Deputy Prosecutor James Smith argued that the aggravating factors, found by the jury, allowed for a sentence outside the standard range. He proposed a 45-year sentence.
Smith said Hartley was defenseless against Burge’s attack. He added that Burge’s story of Hartley causing her own fatal injuries, which was not medically supported, added a “layer of pain, grief and deception.”
Defense attorney Renee Alsept said a sentence within the mid to upper standard range would be more appropriate. She argued the prosecution was trying to override the jury’s verdict by pushing for a punishment more in line with a first-degree murder conviction.
Smith disagreed, saying that if Burge had been convicted of first-degree murder, he would be facing 22 1/2 to 30 years; the state would have asked for an exceptional sentence.
Burge declined to give a statement. Instead, defense attorney Michele Michalek, seated next to him at the jail, told the court that Burge is sorry for the family’s loss.
In handing down her sentence, Judge Jennifer Snider said she doesn’t think Burge has taken “accountability or responsibility at all,” especially after he declined to make a statement.
She said no one other than Burge knows what took place when he and Hartley returned from the grocery store that day. Still, she said that children get upset, they want candy — caretakers know that. How Burge responded was over the top, she said.
In addition to the prison sentence, Burge will serve 36 months of community custody, must undergo anger and substance abuse treatment, and is not to have contact with children younger than 12.
After the hearing, a large group of Hartley’s supporters gathered with her family outside the courtroom.
“Forty years is still not long enough,” said Tim Luchau, the girl’s grandfather. “It’s been a hard time going through this, and maybe there will be some closure for people, but nothing is ever going to bring her back.”
Tafoya held her baby and whispered, “Your sissy got some justice today, baby. Yeah, yes she did.”