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‘You provided a cruel and inhumane prison’: Judge harshly upbraids ‘ringleader’ of all-woman group that abused children for years during sentencing hearing

Jayme Kushman appears in a mugshot, inset, and during her sentencing hearing

Jayme Kushman appears in a mugshot, inset, and during her sentencing hearing on July 13, 2023. (New Mexico State Police; New Mexico Courts)

The so-called “ringleader” of a group of women who prosecutors say abused multiple children for nearly a decade was sentenced and harshly condemned by a New Mexico judge on Thursday morning after she pleaded guilty to a series of incidents involving a boy who was chained to a vomit-covered mattress for days on end.

Jayme Kushman, 37, quietly affirmed her “guilty” pleas on five separate counts of child abuse after being asked to do so by 9th Judicial District Court Judge Drew Douglas Tatum. In exchange, 13 additional counts against her were dropped as part of a plea deal reached with the 9th Judicial District Attorney’s Office.

“Let me begin with stating that I’ve been on the bench for almost 16 years and I’ve seen a lot of cases,” the judge said – adding that the allegations against the defendant, and the abuse shown on video during the hearing, were some of the worst he had ever come across.

In several videos played by the state, Kushman and another adult in her house can be seen abusing an 11-year-old boy repeatedly.

The process starts when the child, who has learning disabilities, is chained by his bare ankle to a bed as punishment for wasting food. And, as evidenced by the footage the defendant herself recorded by pointing a camera directly at the bed, that is just the beginning.

“The horrific treatment can only be described as disgusting, inhumane, tragic,” Tatum said. “This child’s innocence was stolen by Ms. Kushman and it cannot be returned. The healing begins now.”

Throughout the hearing, the child victim’s name was used in full. Law&Crime is not naming him due to his extremely young age.

Kushman was ultimately sentenced to 15 years in state prison – she received the maximum sentence allowed under the plea agreement. She will be subject to two years of parole, which is a stricter form of probation in New Mexico, after her release.

District Attorney Brian Stover described discrete actions by the defendant that explain each of the five counts she pleaded out on.

“[the boy] was chained by his ankle to his bed” on July 11, 2022.

“chained to his bed on July 6.”

“he vomited; the defendant grabbed him by the back of his neck and rubbed his face in that vomit.”

“he was made to remain in his bed with that vomit.”

“he was released from the bed for a very short time and then re-chained to the bed.”

The majority of the hour-plus-long hearing was spent by the state painstakingly and graphically showing the various forms of abuse and humiliation meted out to the boy. The state made note of timestamps showing how long he was chained to the bed, how long he remained in the vomit before he was forced to clean it up himself, and how little time he spent off the bed in between his at-home prison sentence.

On top of the abuse, bad enough in and of itself, the district attorney drew attention to “how normal this is to the child.”

“He knows the routine, he knows what he’s supposed to do, he presents his foot so his ankle can be chained to the bed,” Stover explained – drawing the court’s attention to the boy’s compliance.

The state noted that the boy was chained to a bare mattress – with no sheet, no blanket, and no pillow. He went on to say that this is not a matter of a lack of resources due to Kushman being poor because other children in the house had sheets and pillows on their own beds.

“There is nothing between the chain and his skin and the child is now locked there,” Stover said, narrating the video again.

At one point, well over nine hours later, after vomiting in the bed, the boy is directly attacked by his foster mother.

“What did you drink that was red?” the defendant asks as she hits the boy. The boy replies that he didn’t drink anything. Then she rubs his face in the vomit and the boy loudly cries. He is then left in the vomit-covered bed for another five hours.

“He is in the bed for 14 hours straight with no food, no water, no access to the bathroom,” the district attorney told the court. And for the last six hours of that first stretch, he lays in his own vomit.

The boy eventually gets a short reprieve from being chained to the bed – for less than 30 minutes; timestamps show – as another child is eventually sent in to remove the chain. The boy tells the girl who helps him out of his confinement that he defecated on himself.

Then, the boy returns to the room and sits on the bed for another two hours or so before the adults return. They ask him where his chain is and then chain him back to the vomit-covered bed for another three hours. Again, with no food, no water, and no restroom access, Stover noted.

Eventually, the boy asks to go to the restroom and the adults struggle to get him out of the chain “because there are so many different keys to so many different locks,” the district attorney said.

The boy is then allowed off the bed for a second time – for another four minutes – before he’s back again.

Later, the boy chains himself back up. An adult comes in to lock the chain, again, directly to the skin of his ankle. He eventually cries “because he is hungry” and, in response, the defendant hits him in the face.

“What kind of person is the defendant?” Stover asked out loud. “He has no food. He has no water. He has no access to the bathroom. She strikes him.”

Minutes later, she comes back and “demands a kiss,” the district attorney again narrated. The child complies and gives her a quick peck.

“These are just the three days that we have video of,” Stover said, in summary. The district attorney then appeared to speak through tears as he asked the court to “punish the defendant for what she did.”

The defense did not dispute the facts.

Kushman’s attorney did, however, in an effort to secure a lighter sentence, rail against media coverage of the case and express disagreement with the DA’s description of his client as the “ringleader.”

The defendant and two of her former girlfriends were originally arrested and charged with 51 combined child abuse-related counts over incidents that spanned multiple years in August and September 2022. Since then, prosecutors have pared down their potential criminal liability substantially.

Some of the alleged child abuse incidents are said to have occurred in Texas. Most of the incidents are alleged to have occurred in the Land of Enchantment – at a residence in Texico, a tiny city in Curry County just across the border from the Lone Star State.

In response to the defense’s claims that the media had overblown the case, Stover noted that another defendant in the case who was sentenced on Wednesday, Jamie Kay Sena, 29, had her cellular phone on and in her back pocket during her interview with the New Mexico State Police “at the defendant’s direction” who had her “essentially spy for her.” The district attorney also noted that a third defendant, Lora Melancon, 42, is accepting a plea deal next week for child abuse incidents that occurred in Kushman’s house back in 2020.

The defense attorney also said while the footage shown by the state was disturbing: “It’s hard to characterize anything there as violent.”

The defense also showed images provided by Kushman’s family members in an effort to show that “it wasn’t all bad.”

The court disagreed.

“It was time and time and time again,” Judge Tatum explained. “Most people have that voice inside their head saying ‘it’s not right, it’s not moral’…that voice was either nonexistent or not being heard.”

The judge made note of the boy’s compliance with his own victimization and said he didn’t know anything else.

“You provided a cruel and inhumane prison,” saying the boy was treated similarly to a prisoner of war.

The court determined that the child abuse incidents the defendant pleaded guilty to were, despite the defense’s request, serious and violent, finding Kushman to be “a true danger” to the community.

“The community must be protected for as long as can be allowed,” the judge said.

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