LAS CRUCES, N.M. - A Las Cruces mother pleaded no contest to beating her son with a horsewhip, but could still walk away with no time behind bars.
The jury trial for Sherri Mazzola, 41, was set to start Monday afternoon. The jury was selected. Trial was set to begin at 1:15 p.m.
Just minutes earlier, Mazzola agreed to a plea deal. She pled no contest to intentional child abuse with no death or great bodily harm.
Prosecutors said Mazzola beat her son in June 2010.
"His mother was angry with him for not cleaning the bathrooms well enough or fast enough. Also, at or around the same time, she was angry with him for eating a strawberry when he shouldn't have. She spanked him with a horse whip and a broomstick handle. The state would argue this was excessive punishment," said prosecutor Daniel Sewell.
Mazzola originally faced three counts of child abuse and one count of bribing or intimidating a witness. Two child abuse counts and the bribing charge were dismissed as part of the plea deal.
As a result, Mazzola's maximum sentence of 12 years in prison was cut down to 3 years. She could serve the sentence outside of a prison.
Sewell told the judge the state would not be opposed to a suspended sentence. That means Mazzola's prison sentence would be substituted with probation. If she serves her probation with no violations, her prison sentence would be dismissed.
"I don't believe (prison time) necessary because we can protect the victim. The defendant is a military veteran. She's never been convicted of any misdemeanors or felonies before. That's why I was willing to agree to probation if the judge wanted to give her probation," Sewell told ABC-7.
"The state may not object to a suspended sentence but I could still sentence you to three years in prison," district Judge Douglas Driggers told Mazzola.
If the judge goes with the plea deal suggestion, Mazzola could walk away with a few years of probation.
The judge will decide on sentencing at a later date.
The judge set Mazzola's bond until sentencing at $25,000 secured, which she had already posted. As part of her release conditions, Mazzola is not allowed to interact with any minors under the age of 18, except for her grandchildren. Judge Driggers said she will be allowed to see her grandchildren as long as the children's parents are present.
Sewell told ABC-7 Mozzola's son is still recovering and is living with family out-of-state.
The defense declined to comment until after sentencing.