A federal judge on Tuesday sentenced a Hawaii mother of seven, Samantha Leialoha Watanabe, to a month in jail and three months under home confinement for assaulting her 15-month-old daughter on a flight from Alaska. A jury convicted her of assault after last year’s trial where prosecutors alleged she cursed at her daughter, smacked her on her head, hit her in the face with a stuffed doll and yanked out some of her hair during the May 2015 Alaska Airlines flight. Passengers who witnessed the assault reported her to airplane workers who reported her to the police.
She was arrested as soon as she disembarked from the plane and her child taken from her by authorities.
Her public defense attorney argued the allegations were made up by judgmental passengers who didn’t like how Watanabe looked and dressed her child. The attorneys said Watanabe didn’t do anything beyond disciplining her child who was fussy during a long flight.
Public defender Alexander Silvert told the judge Watanabe is breastfeeding a baby she gave birth to prematurely last month. It’s her seventh child. She agreed to let the boy’s father have custody, but she sees the infant frequently enough for nursing, Silvert explained.
He added that Watanabe doesn’t have custody of any of her six other children, including the girl she was traveling with when she was arrested. That she has led a hard life of drugs and homelessness, but has made improvements to her life since her arrest, from anger management to mental health and drug treatment, he said. Silvert asked the judge not to condemn her for that life.
“It was poor parenting skills that got us where we are today,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Marc Wallenstein said in requesting the judge sentence her within a guideline range of four to 10 months. “No one in any socio-economic class is allowed to assault a 15-month-old child.”
But the judge sentenced her to one month in jail and 3 months of house arrest, advising her to use the 30 days at the Honolulu Federal Detention Center for reflection.
She has until May 10 to surrender to authorities to begin her sentence.