HARRIS COUNTY, Texas — A former Houston-area dentist's fate was determined by a Harris County jury on Thursday -- seven years after she performed a procedure that left a child with permanent brain damage.
Bethaniel Jefferson was recently convicted of reckless injury to a child, and on Thursday, she was sentenced to five years of probation. A jury initially sentenced her to 10 years in prison, but the judge changed the sentence to five years of probation.
She was facing up to 20 years in prison for her actions after a 4-year-old patient, Nevaeh Hall, ended up with permanent brain damage during a visit. Jefferson's defense attorney said the jury decided that the dentist took too long to call 911 for help when Nevaeh started seizing during a procedure in 2016.
Jefferson awaited her sentence as jurors deliberated Thursday afternoon.
Witnesses take stand
A number of witnesses testified on behalf of the prosecution on Thursday, including a former employee who claimed that Jefferson attacked her with scissors before she was fired.
The state also called Nevaeh's grandmother to the stand. She said the botched procedure left the child unable to walk, speak or feed herself. She said Nevaeh, now 11, needs 24-hour care.
The defense brought several witnesses of their own to the stand. Jefferson's sister, mother and niece told the jurors that Jefferson is a good person and not a day goes by that she doesn't think about Nevaeh. They said that if she's given probation, they'll make sure she follows the rules.
Defense attorney John Kovach broke down during closing arguments. The defense also added that Jefferson would add value to the community and prison wasn't the right place for her.
The prosecution argued that the incident involving Nevaeh wasn't isolated. A state dental board reprimanded Jefferson twice before the botched procedure for which she was convicted. The prosecution argued that prison time was justified because Jefferson was "more worried about herself than the little girl's life" that day.
The prosecution pushed for the maximum sentence of 20 years in prison while the defense argued for probation.
According to court documents, Nevaeh was given sedatives during a visit to Diamond Dental on Jan. 7, 2016. About three hours after Nevaeh got there, she suffered seizures and her body's oxygen and temperature levels dropped between 50% and 80% of normal, court records said.
Investigators said no one called for medical assistance for more than four hours. As a result, Nevaeh suffered hypoxia, leading to irreversible brain damage.
Jefferson's license was revoked due to the botched procedure.