A Douglas County judge Friday morning ordered a 30-year-old man to serve three years on probation for abusing his girlfriend’s two sons, ages 14 and 12, with a belt in July at their Lawrence home.
District Judge Peggy Kittel also ordered Stanley Burleson to have no contact with the woman or her boys during his probation outside of family therapy sessions and any future supervised visitation sessions.
Burleson had pleaded guilty in October to two counts of child abuse. According to testimony, he became upset the boys had disobeyed his instructions about going to a swimming pool.
At one point on Friday, Kittel said she was prepared to send him to prison because of details in the case. Burleson had the boys remove their clothes because he didn’t believe the initial beating seemed to affect them very much, and he took breaks because he became tired and needed to regroup, the judge said.
Burleson was also accused of standing over the older boy, grabbing him by the throat and threatening him. The boys received treatment at Lawrence Memorial Hospital for bruising and other injuries.
“Those were some of the worse marks I’ve seen on children from a disciplinary whipping,” Kittel said.
The boys’ mother, Laura Sanders, has pleaded no contest to two counts of battery because she was also accused of striking the boys with a belt when she came home hours later. The boys’ grandmother, Kay Sanders, eventually reported the incident to police.
Kittel did have the option of sending Burleson, who now lives in the Kansas City area, to prison, and prosecutors said Friday they weren’t sure he had accepted responsibility for the crimes because he had often told investigators his mother had disciplined him with a belt.
“Discipline gone too far is one thing, but choking a child around the neck and saying, ‘I can kill you’ is a whole different field of action,” said Amy McGowan, a chief assistant district attorney.
But Burleson told Kittel he had attended parenting classes during his three months in jail and had continued to seek treatment, including for anger management, when he posted bond.
“I’m sorry for the mistakes I’ve made. I’ve hurt people I love. I will take the right steps to correct the problems I’ve caused,” he said. “I will make the right changes to my life to make sure something of this nature never happens again.”
Defense attorney Branden Smith said Burleson had been a longtime father figure to the boys and he had no intention of hurting them, but that the discipline went too far. The boys had also written letters to the judge saying they missed him and didn’t want him to go to prison.
“I know he’s sorry for what he’s done because he told me so,” Kay Sanders said. “So I do forgive him, and I love him because that’s what God teaches me, to be a forgiving person and to try to help those who have wronged us.”
Kittel said she was willing to give Burleson another chance based on the family’s attitude. He faces two years and seven months in prison if he violates his probation.
“I find that the family’s attitude is paramount, that they see the good in you,” Kittel said. “They want you to be there for them.”