Napa County Appeals Court Orders Re-Sentencing in Torture Murder of 3-Year-Old

A state appeals court this week ordered the re-sentencing of Sara Lynn Krueger and Ryan Scott Warner, who were convicted for the 2014 murder, with special circumstances of torture, of Krueger’s 3-year-old daughter Kayleigh Slusher.

In the gruesome details recounted by the court, on Feb. 1, 2014, authorities went to Krueger’s apartment and discovered Kayleigh’s body in bed under blankets. Her face was bruised and blood came from her nose. Her skin was ice cold.

The coroner’s investigator found bruises all over her body. Paraphernalia related to methamphetamine was found in the apartment.

Medical experts testified that Kayleigh — 41 inches tall and 34 pounds at the time of her death — had 41 external injuries on her body including “blunt force injuries to the front and back of her torso.”

The experts testified that the beating had caused Kayleigh’s intestines to burst and over a period between 12 hours and three days, the injury caused infection that lead to shock and death.

In the period between the injury and her death, the experts testified Kayleigh “would have cried and would have suffered discomfort, pain, nausea, vomiting, and loss of appetite. The symptoms would have progressed over time to unconsciousness and death.”

At the time of her death, Kayleigh was living with Krueger and Warner, who used methamphetamines together and had a frequently stormy domestic life. 

Neighbors and friends testified that on occasion they heard loud fighting and screaming from Krueger’s small apartment and the sound of Kayleigh being hit. Police were called, and more than once they visited the apartment.

On the morning of the day police discovered Kayleigh in her bed, Kruger and Warner were observed leaving the apartment carrying luggage.  They were arrested the next day and ultimately charged with assault and murder. Given the evidence of Kayleigh’s beatings, the murder charge included the special circumstances of torture.

Murder with such circumstances carries a sentence of life without parole. The prosecution did not seek the death penalty.

Krueger and Ryan were tried and convicted by separate juries, and each jury found special circumstances of torture.

On appeal, Krueger and Warner challenged their convictions and sentences on multiple grounds. In two opinions totaling 147 pages, the appellate panel rejected all the challenges other than the determination of the special circumstances of torture.

The court found that torture with special circumstances requires proof that the defendant intended to kill when he or she tortured the victim. There was evidence in the record that in the period shortly before she died, Kayleigh had drank from a cup containing Windex and tobacco.

The defendants tried to make Kayleigh vomit after she drank the tainted water, and at one point, gave her Pedialyte and popsicles to hydrate her.

Based on those facts, the court determined that the evidence at trial was not sufficient to prove the defendants intended to kill Kayleigh.  This required a reversal of their sentence and a re-sentencing that will take place at a future date in Napa County Superior Court.

Napa County District Attorney Allison Haley issued a statement expressing her strong disagreement with the rulings.

She praised the juries who she said, “had the courage and common sense to call abject cruelty what it was.”

Haley said, “if not an intent to kill, then why beat your baby so severely that her intestine ruptures?”

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