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Woman pleads guilty in death of Spirit Lake girl

FARGO -- Hope Tomahawk Whiteshield pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court here Monday to felony child abuse and witness tampering in the death last month of her step-granddaughter, Laurynn Whiteshield, 2, on the Spirit Lake Indian Reservation.

A plea agreement negotiated by the U.S. attorney's office and Whiteshield's federal public defender was accepted by U.S. District Judge Ralph Erickson after he asked her a series of questions to determine whether she understood her rights and consequences of the pleas.

Each count carries a potential sentence of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. A sentencing hearing will be set later.

Whiteshield, 32, was initially charged with abuse or neglect of a child resulting in serious bodily injury.

According to the criminal complaint, she threw Laurynn Whiteshield down an embankment by the family's home near St. Michael, N.D., on June 12. She later told investigators that she threw Laurynn and pushed her twin sister over the embankment because she "was getting depressed about having kids all the time."

The safety of children on the reservation has been a major issue for the past year and a half following several instances of children dying or reporting abuse or sexual abuse.