This is a complex story about a complicated tragedy. It should make you sick. And then it should make you mad. This is far from a holiday story. You've been warned.
Bradley Hardy was only 2 when he died. His head had been shoved into a toilet like a plunger because the child had soiled himself. Then he was beaten. And then he died.
Bradley's mother, Sheryl Hardy, and her then-husband Thomas Coe were charged with murder in the case from Florida. Both were convicted, though Sheryl Hardy was convicted of a lesser sentence because apparently her husband was the leading culprit in the death.
After nine years in prison, Sheryl Hardy is now free once more. She now lives in Illinois, just north of St. Louis. Her husband remains in prison.
Here's where it gets complicated and ugly. Hardy and Coe also had a daughter and Hardy then had another child while in prison. Both of those children were taken away from her and now live in foster homes. Bradley too had lived in a foster home before his death. But when the foster parents wanted to adopt him, Sheryl Hardy fought them in court and received custody of Bradley. He died 66 days later on a cold bathroom floor.
Now Sheryl Hardy has yet another child - a nine-month-old son also in foster care. Yet despite this unbelievable past, an Illinois judge has granted Sheryl Hardy custody of her infant son over the massive objections of everyone involved in her past.
Florida officials predict her new son will meet the same fate as Bradley. Illinois social service officials have protested the judge's decision all to no avail.
If you're keeping score that means that four children were removed from the home, one was killed and yet she is given custody of the newest child. And you think the system works?
Well you're wrong. Granted, Sheryl Hardy is the worst example possible but how can a sane society grant custody given this checkered, murderous history? Simply because Sheryl Hardy completed her prison term, a judge should most certainly not grant her the custody she now desires. In fact, she should never have children nor custody of children nor contact with children. To act otherwise is absurd.
Four social workers who monitored her case in Florida were disciplined over Bradley's death. Only one was convicted however and she only received three months' probation. The murder of Bradley led to a major overhaul of the child protection laws in Florida including an additional $79 million to hire more social workers to monitor child abuse cases. But that was too little, too late - for Bradley.
Maybe we put too much power and authority in the hands of judges. Maybe there should be some process that would prohibit Sheryl Hardy from ever having custody and control of a child.