Grandmother found guilty, immediately sent to jail
SUNBURY - Bertha Dreese sought a trial to prove her innocence, but after being convicted by a judge Tuesday in her one-year-old granddaughter's 2010 hyperthermia death, she is expected to receive a longer prison sentence than the child's parents.
Despite being found guilty of involuntary manslaughter, recklessly endangering another person and endangering the welfare of children by Northumberland County President Judge Robert B. Sacavage, Dreese maintained her innocence while she was escorted from the courtroom by deputy sheriffs.
"It's not right," she told the media before being taken downstairs to a holding cell in the sheriff's office. "All I wanted to do was pick my granddaughter up. The DA denied me a polygraph. Lopaka (Loner) and my daughter (Heidi Yocum) both lied."
In addition to convicting Dreese on all charges, Sacavage increased her bail from $25,000 to $50,000 cash after defense attorney James Best of Sunbury requested the judge to allow his client to remain free through an appeals process. Best said Dreese, a lifelong resident of the Sunbury-Selinsgrove area, had no prior criminal record and was not a "flight risk" since she appeared for several other legal proceedings before her trial.
Dreese, who currently resides in Shamokin Dam, was committed to the county jail after failing to post bail and she is scheduled to be sentenced by Sacavage within 20 days.
First Assistant District Attorney Ann Targonski, who opposed Best's bail request, stated, "It's always a sad day when we're faced with the reality of the death of an infant. I'm pleased with the verdict and I believe justice was done for baby Anela."
Sunbury Cpl. Jamie Quinn, the arresting officer in the case, added, ""I am very pleased with the verdict. This was a long and difficult investigation that the prosecuting team put its heart and soul into because it involved the death of an infant. I'm glad it's over."
Best said he was disappointed with the verdict and will consider his appellate court options.
The defense attorney said he was surprised by Sacavage's decision to increase bail.
Dreese, who was dressed in a white top, white slacks and white sneakers with yellow socks, cried when the guilty verdict was read on all three charges. After Sacavage adjourned the court proceedings, Dreese briefly talked to a couple friends and clergy members from Lewisburg Alliance Church who supported her throughout the trial.
After hearing two days of testimony and closing arguments in the bench trial, Sacavage ruled that Dreese was grossly negligent and reckless while babysitting her granddaughter, Anela Naloni Loner, who died Oct. 16, 2010, after being left in an upstairs bedroom for 19 hours with a space heater at 43 S. Seventh St., Sunbury, where her parents, Loner and Yocum, and two older siblings resided.
The judge also found the defendant guilty of placing the child in danger of serious bodily injury or death and failing to supervise, protect and support the welfare of the victim.
Dreese faces a maximum of 20 years imprisonment, including a 10-year sentence for involuntary manslaughter.
Earlier this year, Dreese withdrew her guilty plea to involuntary manslaughter. She reportedly changed her mind on the plea because of the 1- to 5-year state prison sentence imposed on Yocum by Judge Charles H. Saylor. Yocum, 30, was expecting to be placed on probation after pleading guilty to recklessly endangering a child.
Yocum is incarcerated at SCI-Cambridge Springs in Crawford County.
On Nov. 19, the 29-year-old Loner was sentenced by Sacavage to 11 1/2 to 23 months in Northumberland County Prison after pleading guilty to misdemeanors of endangering the welfare of children and recklessly endangering another person. He has since been transferred to Lycoming County Prison in Williamsport.
Yocum and Loner, who both testified at Dreese's trial, also were accused of not checking on the baby throughout the day and not providing any food or water to the infant in a room that reached 90 degrees at times from a space heater being on.