Mother of Slain Toddler to be Sentenced This Week

Friends, family ask judge to give Takara Kaye Juntunen treatment instead of prison sentence

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

The 23-year-old Kalispell woman convicted of negligent homicide after her boyfriend murdered her 2-year-old son will be sentenced this week in Flathead County District Court.

Takara Kaye Juntunen will appear in court on Dec. 8, two months after she pleaded guilty to negligent homicide in the 2015 death of Forrest Groshelle.

Juntunen was arrested and charged with felony negligent homicide in June, just weeks after Brandon Walter Lee Newberry, her boyfriend in late 2014 and early 2015, was sentenced to 40 years in prison after being convicted of mitigated deliberate homicide.

According to the plea agreement, prosecutors and the defense are expected to recommend a 20-year sentence to the Department of Corrections with 15 years suspended. However, District Court Judge Heidi Ulbricht could choose to sentence Juntunen to up to 20 years in prison.

Prior to the Dec. 8 sentencing, friends and family of Juntunen wrote letters to Judge Ulbricht urging her to send the convicted to a treatment program and not prison. Many of the letters painted the picture of a single mother who loved her son but was struggling with drug addiction.

“I know she was under the influence of drugs, but she didn’t know about the abuse. I know my daughter and she would have never let anyone hurt Forrest,” wrote Juntunen’s mother, Cindy.

“She will be doing time for the rest of her life without Forrest in it,” wrote a family friend. “What she really needs is treatment for her addiction and loss of her son so that she can start healing.”

In court documents filed this spring, Deputy County Attorney Andrew Clegg accuses Juntunen of being responsible for her son’s death because she failed to seek medical attention for the boy in the days before he died, even though he showed signs of being abused.

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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