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News Dillsboro woman pleads guilty in child abuse case

Kirsten in September 2011 in ICU at Memorial Mission days after the attack, and Kirsten seven months later.Dillsboro woman pleads guilty in child abuse case

A Dillsboro woman charged with felony child abuse for inflicting serious bodily harm to her step-granddaughter entered a guilty plea last Tuesday, May 8, in Jackson County Superior Court.

Lisa Plank Hart, 45, pleaded guilty to a Class C felony of child abuse inflicting serious bodily injury, and faces a maximum of 228 months in jail.

The presiding judge for Hart's case, Judge Brad Letts, continued sentencing for the case until Sept. 19.

Hart was arrested after an incident which occurred over a three-day period in Dillsboro in August 2011. According to Hart's testimony, she admitted to police that her then, 28-monthold step-granddaughter, Kirsten, had become ill in the car and began to cry, at which point Hart struck the child in the face, blackening her eye. Hart also admitted to police that two days after the initial attack, Kirsten had been playing with her cereal around 8:30 a.m. during breakfast, which caused Hart to “snap” at which point she began beating the toddler until she became unresponsive. Kirsten laid unconscious until Hart’s husband, Kirsten’s biological grandfather, came home from work and called 9-1-1 to report the attack.

Kirsten was air lifted to Mission Hospital in Asheville in critical condition. Among other visible injuries to her face and body, Kirsten suffered from a hematoma and extensive damage to the left side of her brain. She has had to undergo surgery to have the left bone flap of her skull removed to reduce the swelling of her brain. Kirsten remained in a coma for a month and had to be placed on a ventilator and a feeding tube.

Kirsten, who lives in Warner Robins, Ga. and was only in the care of her step-grandmother for a visit, remained in ICU in critical condition until she was transported to Children's Healthcare of Atlanta to continue the recovery process closer to her family. Kirsten continued the recovery process in Atlanta for several weeks before being released to go home.

Although her progress continues to be tremendous, Kirsten still suffers from some negative side effects of the abuse. She is still required to wear a helmet in order to protect her brain after her skull was cut open to reduce the swelling. The piece of skull still has not been replaced due to swelling. Kirsten has permanent nerve damage on the right right side of her face and is waiting to schedule surgery to replace the piece of skull that was removed nearly ten months ago.

According to Assistant District Attorney Rachael Groffsky, Hart's other two charges, one felony count of assault causing serious bodily injury and one count felony neglect child abuse inflicting serious bodily harm, are expected to be dismissed pursuant to the guilty plea. Groffsky also noted that Hart will remain in custody until her sentencing in September.

Kirsten’s family and friends have created a facebook page “Prayers for Kirsten” for people to offer words of encouragement to Kirsten as she continues the long, uncertain road to recovery. Fund-raising events and donation information can also be found on the Facebook page or by contacting Rebecca Payne at (478) 442-0606.

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