Oregon mom accused of killing her 7-year-old son to appear in court again in March

Sarah Safranek enters an Ogle County courtroom on Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2024. She is accused of killing her 7-year-old son, Nathaniel, in 2021.

OREGON – An Oregon woman accused of killing her 7-year-old son in 2021 again will appear in court March 12 after her defense attorneys asked an Ogle County judge Wednesday for another continuance.

Sarah Safranek, 36, 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 appeared in court Wednesday afternoon with her attorneys, public defenders Michael O’Brien and Kathleen Isley, who asked that the status hearing be continued to 2 p.m. March 12.

Judge John Redington granted the continuance after Ogle County State’s Attorney Mike Rock said he did not object to the request.

Safranek has pleaded not guilty to all charges. She has been held in the Ogle County Correctional Center since her arrest in April 2021 and appeared in court in person wearing handcuffs and shackles in an orange jumpsuit issued to prisoners.

In some court appearances, Safranek has appeared remotely via video from the jail. She has had numerous court appearances in connection with the case.

On Nov. 3, 2022, Redington ruled that Safranek was fit to stand trial after reviewing a 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 Jayne Braden review Safranek’s history of “mental health issues.” Braden, a forensic and clinical psychologist in Sycamore, was the court-appointed expert who conducted Safranek’s first evaluation when she was charged.

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 a previous motion asking for her pretrial release, her attorneys argued that their client is not getting sufficient medical attention while in custody.

Prosecutors have 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,” among other things.

On Wednesday, Redington again denied her release, saying that the charges against Safranek are detainable offenses.

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.

Court records indicate that an autopsy showed the boy also had a ruptured liver.

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.

Ogle County judge John Redington (center) presided over a hearing for Sarah Safranek on Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2024. Safranek is accused of killing her 7-year-old son, Nathaniel, in 2021.
Nathaniel Burton
Earleen Hinton

Earleen Hinton

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