Sherri L. Sprenger stood before a judge Wednesday morning in Jackson and admitted that she had slapped a 98-year-old nursing home patient across the face in a fit of rage in August.
And now only one punishment would satisfy the victim's family members -- that the nurse's aid who had been taking night classes to advance her career never be allowed to work in the health care field again.
Judge Michael Bullerdieck agreed, opting for the form of probation that would leave the misdemeanor crime on Sprenger's permanent record even after her two years of supervised probation expired.
Bullerdieck had harsh words for Sprenger, telling her that one minor mistake will put her behind bars.
"If I see you back here for any reason, you're going to jail," he said.
The judge technically gave the former Lutheran Home employee a six-month jail sentence, but suspended it in lieu of the probation that also calls for anger management counseling, 80 hours of community service and a written letter of apology to the victim's family within the next 30 days.
The judge could have suspended the imposition of Sprenger's sentence, which would have meant her record would have been wiped clean at the end of the two years and she could likely continue with her plans to become a licensed practical nurse. In fact, Sprenger had been set to graduate from the LPN program at the end of last semester when police responded to the Lutheran Home for a report of a resident who had bruising on her face, according to court documents and family member accounts. During interviews with the Lutheran Home staff members, police were told that the victim had said she was slapped by a worker there -- later identified as Sprenger.
Now, joining the ranks of the highly regulated members of the nursing field seems out of reach, which Cape Girardeau County Prosecuting Attorney Morley Swingle said was an appropriate punishment after the sentencing.
"To the extent that it's possible, this will make sure that she doesn't work as a nurse again," Swingle said. "If you don't have the ability to control your anger and not slap a 98-year-old woman across the face, it's probably not the best job for you."
As it has done since after the charges were filed in September, the operators of the Lutheran Home again Wednesday declined to comment on the case. So, too, did Sprenger's lawyer, public defender Patti Tucka.
The family members of the victim also left the Cape Girardeau County Courthouse on Wednesday without speaking. But the plea did make the six victim impact statements that they submitted to the court open to the public -- from a son, two daughters, two daughters-in-law and a granddaughter. While the names are public, the Southeast Missourian has a policy of not identifying victims in many criminal cases.
That's what made clear their desire to keep Sprenger from coming near a patient in an official capacity again. The victim's son wrote the court that he had been horrified when he saw his mother's bruised face.
"I cannot imagine how this person could have hit a 98-year-old woman in the face, a lady who is unable to take care of herself," the son wrote, adding that he wouldn't mind some jail time but that his first priority was keeping Sprenger from hurting another patient.
The rest of the letters echoed similar sentiments.
While Sprenger has not commented publicly since she was charged, one woman came to her defense Wednesday. Sprenger's grandmother, Phyllis Rhodes of Cape Girardeau, said people don't know what Sprenger has gone through in her life, suffering through an experience at a young age that caused a rough childhood that few can understand.
"It was very rough for her emotionally and physically," Rhodes said. "She should have got counseling, but she didn't. She may be angry sometimes, but if people knew what she's been through -- they would be, too."
Now to have this dream snatched away, she said, has made life unbearable for her granddaughter.
"She's a good kid," Rhodes said. "She really is. She's not just what these charges have made her out to be."
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