Tahlequah Daily Press

December 18, 2013

Dakota’s mom charged with his murder

Staff Writer

TAHLEQUAH — Prosecutors have formally charged a mother with first-degree murder in the death of her 3-year-old son.

Jeri D. Sanders, 36, has been jailed without bond since the mid-November death of her son, Dakota, who was found unresponsive at the Stepping Stone Rooming House.

Investigators allege Dakota was struggling with sleep issues, and for weeks had been screaming throughout the night. Sanders allegedly admitted she and her common-law husband, Buford Ellison, were stressed because of the situation and ongoing health issues.

When Dakota awoke early one morning last month, Sanders allegedly left him in a room with Ellison and returned 15 minutes later to see the boy’s body wedged behind Ellison’s.

Sanders later told authorities she assumed then that the boy was dead, but she left him alone for several hours before she carried his “lifeless” body and left him with a baby sitter in the rooming house. That baby sitter believed Dakota was sleeping until she attempted to wake him several hours later.

Sanders and Ellison were both jailed for the boy’s murder, and Ellison later died at a Tahlequah hospital from the effects of Stage IV cancer, according to prosecutors.

Court documents filed with formal charges Tuesday allege Sanders “willfully permitted Buford Ellison to cause the death of the victim, a 3-year-old child, by allowing Buford Ellison to willfully or maliciously injure the victim causing the death of the victim.”

First-degree murder is punishable by the death penalty, or life in prison with or without parole.