Mother of Slain Toddler Pleads Guilty

Takara Kaye Juntunen admitted that her decision to let her boyfriend care for her 2-year-old son led to the boy’s death in 2015

By Justin Franz
Takara Juntunen appears in Flathead County District Court on Oct. 3, 2016. Greg Lindstrom | Flathead Beacon

A 23-year-old Kalispell woman pleaded guilty to felony negligent homicide on Oct. 3 a year and a half after her boyfriend murdered her 2-year-old son.

Takara Kaye Juntunen pleaded guilty in Flathead County District Court a month after she signed a plea deal wherein she admitted that her decision to let Brandon Walter Lee Newberry care for her son in early 2015 led to Forrest Groshelle’s death.

Newberry was convicted of mitigated deliberate homicide earlier this year and has been sentenced to 40 years in prison.

Just weeks after Newberry was sentenced in April, Flathead County Deputy Attorney Andrew Clegg charged Juntunen with negligent homicide and criminal possession of dangerous drugs. Juntunen was arrested soon after and denied the allegations at an arraignment in June.

The plea deal stipulated that Juntunen would agree to plead guilty to felony negligent homicide and prosecutors would drop the drug charge. The state and defense have recommended a 20-year sentence to the Department of Corrections with 15 years suspended.

On Oct. 3, Juntunen appeared before District Court Judge Heidi Ulbricht. During the hearing, Juntunen was subdued and only answered yes or no questions on the stand.

“You should have known that putting your son in the care of Brandon Newberry meant that you were putting him in danger, is that correct?” defense attorney Steven Scott asked Juntunen, adding that Newberry had been using meth extensively at the time of Groshelle’s death.

“Yes,” Juntunen responded.

Juntunen will appear in court again for sentencing on Dec. 8.

On Feb. 17, 2015, the Flathead County Sheriff’s Office responded to the report of an unresponsive child at a home in Evergreen. Upon arrival at the home, they determined that the child was deceased. First responders also observed injuries to the child’s face, neck, arms, legs, back and buttocks.

An autopsy revealed that Groshelle had been hit multiple times in the abdomen, causing a laceration of the small intestine that slowly poisoned the boy. During an interview with law enforcement, Newberry told them that in the days before Groshelle’s death he had been “roughhousing” with the child.

Newberry had been dating Juntunen for three months at the time of the death and was living at her home in Evergreen. He frequently watched the child while Juntunen was at work.

In an interview with law enforcement, Juntunen said Groshelle had refused to eat and was “throwing up brown stuff” in the days before he died. She also said the boy had “turned purple” at one point and had a temperature of 101 the day before he died. Despite the fact that the boy was throwing up and had a high fever, Juntunen stated that she did not believe Groshelle’s symptoms were serious.

Witnesses later told law enforcement that Juntunen’s level of care and attention for Groshelle declined because of continued drug use. During the investigation, law enforcement found drug paraphernalia in the home.

In February 2016, Juntunen’s father contacted the sheriff’s office after discovering drug paraphernalia inside his daughter’s backpack. A residue on the paraphernalia was later determined to be methamphetamine. In an interview with law enforcement, Juntunen admitted to using meth on a daily basis, specifically on the days leading up to Groshelle’s death.

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