Former Missoula woman charged with killing sons

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SHERRI TELNAS

A former Missoula woman who pleaded no contest to trying to drown her infant son in the Clark Fork River near St. Regis more than a decade ago recently appeared in a California court on charges she murdered her two boys last summer.

Sherri Renee Telnas, 45, appeared in the Tulare County Superior Court Jan. 10. A preliminary hearing was scheduled for June 23. Telnas had pleaded not guilty to drowning her 7-year-old and 12-year-old sons in a irrigation ditch in June 2019.

According to a story in the Fresno Bee, 12-year-old Jackson and 7-year-old Jacob Ray were found unconscious in a water-filled ditch. Jacob died a few weeks after the drowning. Family members identified the boys.

Telnas first faced an attempted deliberate homicide charge after attempting to drown her 10-month-old son April 16, 2008. The charge was later amended to criminal endangerment and Telnas agreed to a plea deal with the Mineral County Attorney’s Office.

The 20-year probation sentence was a significant step down from the possible sentence Telnas had faced in 2009. The maximum sentence for attempted deliberate homicide is life in prison or death.

But another story in the Fresno Bee reported that Telnas was released from supervision by Montana authorities six years into her 20-year probation sentence.

The story also reported that California probation officer told Montana officials in 2014 that Telnas had completed substance abuse program and continued to attend mental health appointments.

According to the plea in the first case, the endangerment counts alleged that Telnas knowingly engaged in conduct that created “substantial risk of death or serious bodily injury” to her son by submerging him in the Clark Fork River and then transporting him to the Mineral Community Hospital without a seatbelt or proper restraints.

According to a complaint filed then by Mineral County Attorney Shaun Donovan, Telnas appeared at the Mineral Community Hospital on the afternoon of the incident and told employees that she had tried to drown her child. An x-ray of the boy showed that there was a significant amount of water in his lungs.

Hospital employees immediately called the Mineral County Sheriff’s Office and Sheriff Hugh Hopwood and Undersheriff Mike Johnson arrived at the hospital and arrested Telnas.

During questioning Telnas said that “bad thoughts or voices” had told her to try to drown her child.

Donovan said that Jackson Telnas had recovered fully and was living with his father, Jacob, in Missoula.

But Sherri Telnas was allowed to keep Jackson after winning a custody battle with Jacob, according to the Bee story.

Telnas underwent a mental evaluation at the Montana State Hospital in Warm Springs as well as through the state forensic psychologist William Stratford.

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