CLAYTON • A woman who admitted participating in the rape of her infant daughter was sentenced Monday to two consecutive life sentences in prison after her attorneys failed to convince a judge that she should get probation because of a psychological disorder.
Attorneys for Tessa L. Vanvlerah, 22, had a forensic psychologist testify at the sentencing hearing in St. Louis County Circuit Court that Vanvlerah has a dependent-personality disorder.
Dr. Brooke Kraushaar said it caused Vanvlerah to participate in the sexual fantasies of Kenneth M. Kyle, a college professor from California about twice her age, even though she knew sex acts involving her then-5-month-old daughter were wrong.
Kyle, who met Vanvlerah online, was sentenced in March to 37½ years in federal prison after pleading guilty of abusing the child during several visits to St. Louis in 2009. He first came to authorities' attention through the sharing of child pornography online.
Kraushaar, who was hired by defense lawyers Brent Labovitz and Kevin Whiteley, described Vanvlerah as "a passive offender" who was so afraid of being rejected by others that she also allowed Kyle to choke, burn and urinate on her.
The psychologist said prison time would put Vanvlerah at risk of getting into further trouble because of the dominant personalities there.
Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Kathi Alizadeh, however, disputed the diagnosis and pressed for the two life sentences.
She pointed out in cross-examination that Vanvlerah exercised free will in electronic communications with another man. Vanvlerah carved her nickname for the man, "Lord Nikon," into her skin at his request, the prosecutor said, but drew the line at one of his suggestions involving bestiality.
Alizadeh said police also learned that Vanvlerah talked with a man from Avon, Mo., who sent her child pornography and who spoke of coming to St. Louis to have sex with her infant. It was never acted upon.
In 2008, a woman obtained a court order of protection against Vanvlerah, then 18, accusing her of seducing and having sex with the woman's 16-year-old autistic son. According to Alizadeh, it resulted in Vanvlerah's pregnancy.
Alizadeh pointed out that Vanvlerah smiled in pictures showing Kyle with the infant.
Vanvlerah, of the 200 block of Solon Drive in Ballwin, was forced to give up custody of the child after being charged in April 2010 with first degree statutory rape and sodomy, as well as incest and child pornography. The pornography charge was dropped prior to her guilty plea in January.
The child's foster mother, who has since adopted her, said in a victim's impact statement that the child initially would scream and cry when someone bathed her or changed her diaper. Today, at age 3, the woman said, the child has night terrors and asks her at each bedtime to make sure nobody else comes into the home.
The woman, in tears, said the girl was, however, getting better day by day now that she "is no longer Tessa's plaything and she is no longer Tessa's child."