Oregon mom accused of ‘brutal’ suffocation of her 7-year-old son

Sarah Lyn (Burton) Safranek

OREGON – Seven-year-old Nathaniel Burton was suffocated by his mother in a “particularly brutal” manner, investigators said at a news conference this afternoon.

Sarah Lyn (Burton) Safranek, 34, was arrested at her home and charged today with five counts of first-degree murder and one count of aggravated battery of a child, Ogle County State’s Attorney Mike Rock said.

She is in Ogle County jail on $2 million bond, facing 20 years to life if convicted of murder, and 6 to 30 years for aggravated battery.

Nathaniel, son of Safranek and Bryan E. Burton, was pronounced dead at KSB Hospital in Dixon after Oregon police responded to a 911 call at 2:35 a.m. Feb. 17 reporting a 7-year-old who was not breathing.

An autopsy showed that the boy was suffocated, the release said.

Rock would not say how the boy was suffocated.

Sentences can be enhanced to life in prison if the manner in which the murder was committed was “exceptionally brutal or heinous behavior indicative of wanton cruelty and committed in a cold, calculated and premeditated manner pursuant to a preconceived plan,” Rock said in a news release outlining the charges.

“The way it’s alleged, there was particularly brutal behavior used in the commission of the murder that occurred on that date,” he said at the news conference.

“We anticipate there will be a number of pretrial motions filed to determine ultimately what a fact-finder listens to as part of their evidentiary decision.”

A third person was in the home in the 400 block of South 10th Street at the time, but Rock declined to say who it was, adding that he expects only Safranek will be charged.

“There were three individuals in the home ... including the victim,” he said. “That will be part of the ultimate issue in this case. I wouldn’t be able to speak to the other person’s involvement at this time.”

He also declined to comment on any previous issues related to the family, including any information regarding whether the Department of Child & Family Services was involved or in what capacity.

Safranek has other children but was not responsible for them at the time of her arrest, Rock said.

Oregon police, the lead investigators in the case, waited several weeks for results of the autopsy, which required additional tests, before submitting their findings to Rock.

Murder cases create “a number of investigatory leads” that must be followed, Rock said.

“It certainly isn’t a situation where you’re going to rush the investigation. The investigation takes as long as it takes,” he said. “Once we felt we had all of the pieces of the puzzle put together, that’s when we were comfortable with the filing of the charges we filed today.”

Safranek is scheduled to appear in bond court at 1 p.m. Thursday via video.