DOUGLAS COUNTY, Colo. — Kelly Renee Turner wept in court Monday as she took responsibility for her daughter’s 2017 death, which occurred after she spent years faking the 7-year-old’s “terminal” illnesses.
Turner, 43, was initially charged with first-degree murder in the death of Olivia Gant. According to The Denver Post, Turner pleaded guilty to child abuse and two counts of theft.
Instead of the life sentence that a first-degree murder charge would have mandated, prosecutors and the defense agreed to a 16-year sentence on the child abuse charge, to be served concurrently with a 10-year sentence for theft.
Authorities said at the time of Turner’s 2019 arrest that she had faked all her daughter’s medical conditions, forcing the girl to suffer while raking in thousands of dollars in donations from charities and bilking Medicaid for her daughter’s unnecessary medical care.
Olivia gained national attention shortly before she died as she was granted her dying wishes of being an honorary Denver police officer and a firefighter.
District Judge Patricia Herron described Turner’s lighter sentence as “difficult to stomach,” the Post reported.
“That does not mean I will not impose it,” Herron said, according to the paper. “For any number of reasons, I understand how we end up here. But it’s difficult when we have the death of a young child.”
The judge pointed to Olivia’s “lifetime of painful, frightening tests and surgical procedures” that ultimately ended with her death.
“This is not perfect justice by any means,” Chief Deputy District Attorney Christopher Gallo said. “But certainly, Judge, this plea is in the interest of justice. And for those reasons we ask the court to accept the plea.”
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Gallo said in court that prosecutors were unable to pinpoint exactly when the abuse took place over the years of Olivia’s short life. That inability complicated an already complex case.
An autopsy in late 2018 also failed to show the girl’s exact cause of death.
An investigation last year by the Post determined that doctors and nurses at Children’s Hospital Colorado had raised concerns internally that Olivia was being medically abused by her mother. Despite a private investigation — and the hospital’s status as a mandatory reporter — hospital officials never informed outside agencies of the suspicions.
The girl’s remaining family members settled a $25 million civil claim against the hospital in September.
See Inside Edition’s piece on Olivia Gant’s adventures as a cop and a firefighter below.
“Olivia’s family remains completely heartbroken over her tragic and preventable death. They want everyone to know that Olivia was an amazing and resilient young girl,” family attorney Hollynd Hoskins said in a statement. “They intend to speak at sentencing as their mission remains to make sure this never happens to another child.”
‘High maintenance mother’
Authorities previously said that Turner, whom doctors described as a “high maintenance mother,” had been documenting alleged illnesses involving two of her three daughters as far back as August 2011, when the family lived in Texas. At that time, Olivia was 13 months old.
Turner’s middle daughter was 3 and her oldest daughter, whom Turner never claimed to be ill, was 11.
KUSA in Denver reported that the first entries on Turner’s blog back in 2011 described Olivia as having “a misshapen head and a vascular malformation in her brain that could cause seizures, blindness or an aneurysm.” The older girl, Turner claimed, had a bone infection in her ear and an immune deficiency.
Entries obtained by the news station in 2019 showed frequent updates over the next 14 months. In that time frame, Turner claimed Olivia had seizures, celiac disease, autism, excess fluid in her brain that required a shunt for drainage and a thinning of the membrane between the lobes of her brain, KUSA reported.
The older sister, whose name is being withheld because of her age, had cancer, both in the form of tumors in her neck and pelvis and non-Hodgkin lymphoma, Turner claimed.
No one investigated Olivia’s death until 2018, when Turner took her middle daughter to Children’s Hospital Colorado for complaints of “bone pain.”
That same year, the older child, who was 10 at the time, also started seeing a new primary care doctor. The new doctor grew suspicious after Turner claimed her daughter had undergone three years of cancer treatments prior to the family’s move to Colorado in 2013.
The doctor called his counterparts in Texas and learned there had never been a cancer diagnosis.
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It was during the initial investigation into the older girl’s care that Department of Human Services caseworkers learned of Olivia’s death.
Turner eventually admitted that she had fabricated the girl’s cancer diagnoses, but maintained that Olivia’s medical issues were real, the indictment in the case said.
Olivia died Aug. 20, 2017, of what her mother said were complications of a neurogastrointestinal disorder that shut down the girl’s organs, including her intestines. When investigators had the girl’s body exhumed, however, a coroner found no signs of intestinal failure or any of the other conditions Turner claimed Olivia suffered from.
The ‘humane’ thing to do
As harrowing as Olivia’s alleged medical journey appeared, the court documents in Turner’s criminal case paint a much darker portrait of what her daughter actually endured.
KUSA said the indictment alleges Olivia died after her mother withdrew both medical care and nourishment, which Olivia took in through a feeding tube, in the final weeks of the girl’s life.
Multiple doctors argued with Turner, telling her they did not believe her daughter’s condition was terminal, the news station reported. She was persuasive enough, however, to get one doctor to sign a “do not resuscitate” order.
She told doctors that her daughter’s quality of life was so poor that the “humane” thing to do was to stop all care and let her go, according to KUSA.
Local and national news stories from 2017, just prior to Olivia’s death, painted a portrait of Turner as a doting mother who, when her daughter’s life expectancy became a matter of months instead of years, began helping the girl cross items off her bucket list. In April of that year, Olivia was granted the wish of becoming a Denver police officer for a day.
Turner, who was then going by her married name of Kelly Gant, told ABC News that Olivia grew to love the first responders who would come to her aid when she had to call 911, which was often. Becoming an officer was one of the items on the girl’s list of dying wishes.
Footage from the Denver Police Department showed Olivia holding up her crooked and misspelled list, which also included being a fireman, riding a balloon, feeding sharks and going to an American Doll store.
“That’s a day she’ll never forget,” Turner, who lived in Littleton at the time, told ABC News of her daughter’s day with the police. “It was little things to them (the police officers) that meant a lifetime to her. We don’t know how long we have with her. They have no idea the impact they’ve had on our family or our Olivia.”
Denver police Cpl. Tim Scudder was later honored by the department for taking the time to grant Olivia her wish, which the news network reported included a tour of the police station and being sworn in as chief.
“One of her wish lists is to ‘catch bad guys with police,’” Scudder said in video footage from the Denver Police Department, which includes images of a sunglasses-clad Olivia riding shotgun in a patrol car. “That’s what I think being a police officer is all about — making an impact on those in the community and those around us.”
At one point, Scudder told the girl, “We got a call. We’re gonna go catch a bad guy, right?”
An ecstatic Olivia grinned as the camera rolled.
“You’re going to jail!” Olivia shouted over the siren at one point in the footage.
Watch KUSA’s report on Olivia Gant’s day as a firefighter below.
That same spring, the Make-A-Wish Foundation helped Olivia become a firefighter for a day.
“She’s in intestinal failure, and we don’t know how much longer she has,” Turner told KUSA in a story about Olivia’s day as a firefighter.
Footage of that day shown by local and national shows, including Inside Edition, shows a fire truck pulling up outside the girl’s house.
“Look how huge it is!” Olivia exclaimed.
Later, the little girl helped firefighters extinguish a fire.
Olivia died four months later.
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