Mother of Slain Toddler Sentenced to Department of Corrections

Takara Kaye Juntunen will be screened for recovery program after pleading guilty to negligent homicide

By Justin Franz
Takara Juntunen appears in Flathead County District Court on June 16, 2016. Greg Lindstrom | Flathead Beacon

The Kalispell woman convicted of negligent homicide after her boyfriend murdered her 2-year-old son in 2015 has been sentenced to the Department of Corrections.

Judge Heidi Ulbricht delivered Takara Kaye Juntunen a 20-year sentence to the Department of Corrections with 15 years suspended on Dec. 8 in Flathead County District Court. Juntunen, who pleaded guilty earlier this year for her role in the 2015 death of Forrest Groshelle, will be screened for placement in a drug addiction treatment program.

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.

Prosecutors have said Juntunen was under the influence of methamphetamine when Groshelle died due to persistent abuse at the hands of Newberry.

Ulbricht decided to follow a joint recommendation from prosecutor Andrew Clegg and defense attorney Steven Scott that would send Juntunen to treatment rather than prison. Scott, who works for the Office of the State Public Defender in Helena, submitted 21 letters written by family and friends in support of Juntunen receiving treatment. He said it was the first time he’s ever seen such an outpouring of support for a defendant in a case of this nature.

“Takara is one of the most polite clients I’ve ever had,” Scott said. “She knows she needs help. She understands that drugs got her into this situation. She knows that methamphetamine clouded her judgment.”

Scott said Juntunen was a prime candidate for drug treatment and that he had no doubt the 23-year-old woman could become a contributing member to society with professional help.

Moments before Ulbricht handed down her sentence, Juntunen briefly spoke to the court.

“Thank you for giving me a second chance,” she said as she started to cry.

Ulbricht discussed the severity of Juntunen’s crime, noting that she was intimately familiar with the case because she also presided over Newberry’s criminal case.

“You had a job as a mother to protect your child from harm,” the judge said. “Had you and Mr. Newberry sought medical treatment, Forrest would probably still be with us today.”

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.

Stay Connected with the Daily Roundup.

Sign up for our newsletter and get the best of the Beacon delivered every day to your inbox.