Judge grants continuance for mental health review of Oregon mom charged with killing her son

Sarah Safranek is escorted into an Ogle County courtroom in Oregon on Wednesday, Nov.. 8, 2023.

OREGON – A second mental health evaluation of an Oregon woman accused of killing her 7-year-old son in 2021 is being reviewed by her defense team and could be discussed at her next court appearance.

Sarah Safranek, 36, is charged with five counts of first-degree murder and one count of aggravated battery in the suffocation death of her 7-year-old son, Nathaniel Burton, in February 2021. An autopsy showed the boy also had a ruptured liver.

On Wednesday, Ogle County Public Defender Michael O’Brien told Judge John Redington that he had received the report but had not yet had time to examine it.

“We did get the report from Dr. Braden, but we need time to review it,” he said in asking for the continuance. “And I need to review the report with my client.”

Ogle County State’s Attorney Mike Rock and his assistant Matthew Leisten did not object to the continuance, noting that they, too, needed time to review the report.

Jayne Braden, a forensic and clinical psychologist in Sycamore, was the court-appointed expert who conducted Safranek’s first evaluation when she was charged.

On Nov. 3, 2022, Redington ruled that Safranek was fit to stand trial after reviewing a mental health evaluation requested by the defense.

Earlier this year, Redington denied O’Brien’s request to hire additional medical experts for Safranek, despite his argument that she has “a long history as to past mental health care” and that those health issues are “directly connected to her defense.”

The defense filed a motion in March saying that Safranek’s right to due process required the appointment of and/or use of one or more experts to review certain discovery materials and/or provide testimony.

Defense attorneys asked Redington to approve an additional expert to “review and evaluate mental health records” of Safranek, including her condition at the time of the alleged crime.

They argued that extensive mental health records were provided by the state and revealed a “substantial history of mental health issues, mental illness and related services.”

Redington only agreed to have Braden review Safranek’s history of “mental health issues.” O’Brien said Braden has been in the process of compiling that written report for the past two months.

Safranek has been held in the Ogle County Correctional Center on $2 million bond since her arrest in April 2021. She appeared remotely via video from the Ogle County Correctional Center for Wednesday’s hearing.

In October, O’Brien filed a motion for a pretrial release that said Safranek should be freed from jail under the SAFE-T Act because of her “inability” to post the required 10%, or $200,000, of the $2 million bail.

The court found Safranek to be indigent in 2021 after she filed affidavits regarding her finances.

The motion follows passage of the SAFE-T Act, which was upheld by the Illinois Supreme Court and took effect Sept. 18. The law eliminates cash bail and requires that a defendant be released unless a judge rules the defendant is a highly likely flight risk or poses too much of a threat to one person or the community to allow release.

The SAFE-T Act was met with opposition from law enforcement and state’s attorneys across the state, including in Ogle County.

Safranek has claimed that she has mental and physical issues that are not being treated properly at the jail, including daily headaches and frequent facial numbness; frequent muscle spasms in her arms and legs; excessive fatigue and weakness; frequent chest pains; frequent pain between her shoulder blades; worsening vision problems, including worsening blurred vision and floaters; worsening balance issues; and worsening numbness in one or more fingers.

In the motion asking for her pre-trial release, the defense argued that she is not getting sufficient medical attention while in custody.

Prosecutors argued against Safranek’s release, saying that she is a danger to the Ogle County community and has “a history of substance abuse and psychiatric issues.”

They also cited “homicidal” and “suicidal” tendencies that were said to be evident in police reports made during the investigation of Nathaniel’s death.

Redington denied the defense’s pre-trial release motion at the November hearing, noting that he had considered all factors in the first-degree murder case and that her pre-trial release would be a “real and present threat to the community.”

On Wednesday, O’Brien again asked for Safranek’s release and again was denied.

Redington told Safranek that she could appeal his decision if she chose to, but she had to file the appeal within 14 days of Wednesday’s hearing.

He set Safranek’s next status hearing for 1 p.m. Dec. 13.

Nathaniel, a first-grade student at Oregon Elementary School, was found unresponsive and not breathing about 2:30 a.m. Feb. 17, 2021, in his bed at his home in the 400 block of South 10th Street. He was pronounced dead later that day at KSB Hospital in Dixon.

Safranek was arrested April 21, 2021, and indicted May 4, 2021. She pleaded not guilty May 6, 2021.

According to records obtained by Shaw Local News Network in a Freedom of Information Act request, the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services visited the Safranek/Burton household about a dozen times over two years, following up on five reports of suspected abuse and neglect.

Each time, DCFS closed the case after finding no indications of parental wrongdoing.

Nathaniel was 4 when the allegations first surfaced.

Earleen Hinton

Earleen Hinton

Earleen creates content and oversees production of 8 community weeklies. She has worked for Shaw Newspapers since 1985.