Mom accused of killing her son in 2021 appears in court via video; case continued for 2 more weeks

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

OREGON – Defense attorneys for an Oregon woman accused of killing her 7-year-old son in 2021 asked an Ogle County judge for two more weeks Wednesday to review information with their client.

Public defenders Kathleen Isley and Michael O’Brien asked for the continuance as their client, Sarah Safranek, 36, appeared in court remotely from the Ogle County Correctional Center.

Safranek is charged with five counts of first-degree murder and one count of aggravated battery in the February 2021 suffocation death of her 7-year-old son, Nathaniel Burton. She has been in custody since her arrest in April 2021 and has pleaded not guilty to all charges.

On Wednesday, Isley asked that the hearing be continued to 1 p.m. Feb. 28.

“We need to meet again with our client,” Isley said.

Ogle County State’s Attorney Mike Rock did not object, and Judge John Redington set the new date.

In December, O’Brien and Isley issued a subpoena for the boy’s father, Bryan Burton, 37, seeking any items he may have in connection with the case. In a hearing last month, O’Brien told Judge Clayton Lindsey that Burton had responded to the subpoena but more time was needed to review the response and meet with Safranek.

On Wednesday, Rock said information from Burton had been turned over to the defense team.

“We also filed a bystander report,” Rock said.

O’Brien concurred.

“We have worked through those issues,” he said.

On Dec. 13, 2023, Burton appeared in court for Safranek’s status hearing, saying that he was unclear as to why he was ordered to appear in court.

Redington told Burton that he had received the subpoena to provide certain records if he possessed them.

A copy of the subpoena was not included in court documents available to the public.

Redington told Burton that he had 30 days to comply with the subpoena. Burton told Redington that his phone was seized during the investigation.

“You still have to respond,” Redington said.

Rock said Burton is a witness for the state, but he offered to help him understand and comply with the subpoena.

During Wednesday’s hearing, Isley renewed the defense’s motion to have Safranek released from jail as the case proceeds through the court system. Rock reiterated the prosecution’s desire to keep her in custody again, arguing that she is a danger to the Ogle County community and has “a history of substance abuse and psychiatric issues,” among other things.

At a Nov. 22, 2023, hearing, O’Brien told the court that he had received a written report reviewing Safranek’s mental fitness but needed time to review it.

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 the mental health evaluation requested by the defense.

Earlier in 2023, Redington denied O’Brien’s request to hire additional medical experts for Safranek, despite O’Brien’s argument that Safranek has “a long history as to past mental health care” and that those health issues are “directly connected to her defense.”

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.”

Safranek has been held in the Ogle County Correctional Center on $2 million bond since her arrest.

In October 2023, O’Brien filed a motion seeking Safranek’s release from jail under the SAFE-T Act because of her “inability” to post the required 10%, or $200,000, of the $2 million bond.

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

The motion follows passage of the state’s 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 that the defendant is a likely flight risk or poses too much of a threat to one person or the community to allow release.

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 pretrial release, the defense argued that she is not getting sufficient medical attention while in custody.

On Wednesday, Isley said conditions could be imposed to allow Safranek to be released.

“There are conditions that could be imposed to limit any threat,” Isley said.

Redington disagreed and denied the request for release.

“The court is ordering continued detention,” Redington said.

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 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 surfaced.

Ogle County Judge John Redington (center) listens to public defenders Kathleen Isley and Michael O'Brien during a hearing for Sarah Safranek on Wednesday, Feb. 14. 2024. Safranek, appeared remotely via a video conference from the Ogle County Correctional Center. She is charged with killing her 7-year-old son, Nathaniel Burton, in 2021. She has pleaded not guilty.
Sarah Safranek appeared in Ogle County court on Wednesday, Feb. 14. 2024 remotely via a video conference from the Ogle County Correctional Center. She is charged with killing her 7-year-old son, Nathaniel Burton, in 2021.
Earleen Hinton

Earleen Hinton

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