A judge in Indiana handed down the maximum sentence to a mother charged in connection with the brutal death of her infant daughter. Marshall Superior Court Judge Matthew E. Sarber on Friday sentenced 32-year-old Tiffany Coburn to serve 30 months (two years and six months) in prison after a man she and her husband described as a “family relative” brutally murdered 11-month-old Mercedes Lain while babysitting in August 2021, court records reviewed by Law&Crime showed.
Coburn’s sentence means that all three of the adults charged in Mercedes’ death were handed maximum sentences.
Coburn and Mercedes’ father, Kenneth Robert Lain, last month both pleaded guilty to one count each of neglect of a dependent, a Level 6 felony, for endangering the life of their daughter by placing her in the care of 37-year-old Justin Miller.
Miller last year admitted that he “backhanded” the little girl in the head multiple times while high on synthetic marijuana then buried her remains in a shallow grave. He pleaded guilty to one count of murder and was sentenced to the maximum 65 years behind bars. As part of his plea agreement, Miller waived his right to appeal his sentence.
Like Kenneth Lain, Coburn will receive credit for the time she has already spent behind bars since her initial arrest last August. Under Indiana state law, individuals incarcerated for certain misdemeanors and low-level felonies can earn an “good time” credit, granting them an additional day off of their sentence for each day completed with good behavior. As such, the pair’s six months in jail have earned them approximately one year of credited time served. Thus, it is possible for them to both complete the entirety of their sentences after serving approximately nine more months in prison.
The Marshall County Prosecutor’s Office did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the sentencing from Law&Crime.
As previously reported by Law&Crime, investigators discovered Mercedes’ body on Aug. 18 in a densely wooded area in northern Indiana.
Court documents say that Mercedes’ parents dropped her off with Miller on Friday, Aug. 13, saying they needed a break from parenting. Though they described Miller as a “family relative,” their purported relation was not clear.
The couple said Miller was supposed to bring Mercedes back home two days later on Sunday, Aug. 15. After dropping off Mercedes with Miller, “both parents attempted to get a hold of Miller numerous times and could not contact him,” court documents state. When they finally reached him on Aug. 15, Miller allegedly told the couple that he had left Mercedes with a neighbor because Lain and Coburn weren’t home. The couple eventually called police and reported Mercedes missing.
Authorities issued a “Silver Alert” for Mercedes, bringing in the FBI to assist with the investigation.
A neighbor told investigators that Coburn on that Sunday “brought over a duffel bag” and asked the neighbor to “watch it because they needed to call police about their missing baby.”
“The duffel bag contained a safe,” according to a police affidavit. “It is believed that this safe contains illegal narcotics.”
A probable cause affidavit described both Coburn and Lain as “uncooperative in looking for the child,” noting that neither parent returned calls from investigators and missed police interviews.
Investigators located Miller in a Starke County home at approximately 3:30 a.m. on Aug. 16. He was brought to the police department, where he allegedly waived his rights and agreed to be interviewed by detectives. Miller told investigators that Kenneth Lain had contacted him on Aug. 12 about purchasing synthetic marijuana, but said the conversation “then turned into the rough time they were having with [Mercedes],” according to a probable cause affidavit. Miller said he eventually told Lain that he would babysit Mercedes “for a few days” so he and Coburn could “have a break.”
In his plea agreement, Miller reportedly admitted that he was at his girlfriend’s apartment watching Mercedes in mid-August when he grew frustrated that the baby would not stop crying. Confirming that he was high on synthetic marijuana at the time of the assault, Miller reportedly told the court that he struck Mercedes “a couple of times” to get her to stop crying late on the evening of Aug. 12 or early Aug. 13.
Per South Bend ABC affiliate WBND, Miller said he “backhanded” Mercedes “in the head” multiple times causing the child to hit the wall.
When he awoke on the morning of Aug. 14, Miller said he got out of bed and “rolled a joint of synthetic” before seeing Mercedes’ lifeless body. Upon realizing the child was dead, he went to a neighbor’s house and borrowed money for gas; he then grabbed the Mercedes’ body and buried her in a remote wooded area in Starke County.
He then lied and told Lain and Coburn he had dropped Mercedes off at a neighbor’s home.
Coburn’s mother, Angie Owens, previously derided her daughter and Lain, reportedly telling The Daily Beast they are “definitely not good parents.”
“We tried everything in our power to get this baby taken away from them,” Owens continued. “We have called [child protective services] many times. There’s nothing more that we could have done than what we did. We have gone beyond our power in doing what we could to help this baby.”
Lain was previously convicted of neglect of a dependent in 2016 and was sentenced to two years in prison with one year of the sentence suspended. He was then ordered to serve the suspended year after violating the terms of his probation, court records show. Records show he has has also been convicted of several other felonies, many of which include methamphetamine possession.
[Images via Marshall County Jail, Silver Alert]
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