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Michigan woman sentenced to life in prison in starvation death of son

MUSKEGON, Mich. (AP) — A western Michigan woman convicted of murder and child abuse in the starvation death of a disabled 15-year-old son who weighed just 69 pounds was sentenced to life in prison without a chance of parole Tuesday.

Shanda Vander Ark, 44, of Norton Shores, found guilty in the July 6, 2022, death of Timothy Ferguson, was sentenced to an additional 50 to 100 years in prison for first-degree child abuse.

“I’ve been trying now for this entire case to wrap my mind around how somebody could do something so horrific, not only to another human being but to their own child,” Judge Matthew Kacel said. "... You intentionally and systematically tortured this child. Let’s call it what it is: It’s torture. You tortured this child.”

Timothy Ferguson had some mental disabilities, prosecutors have said.

Nolan Ferguson, the victim's brother, testified “if I can’t have my brother back" his mother "shouldn’t have her freedom back."

Vander Ark, wearing orange jail togs, declined to speak when given the chance and instead shook her head to indicate “no.”

Vander Ark’s attorney, Fred Johnson, said his client brought Timothy into her home while working as a single mother who was putting herself through school and the difficulties that came with it.

“This is a survivor. A person who pulled herself up by her bootstraps,” Johnson said. “We’re not looking at evil, we’re looking at sick.”

Paul Ferguson, another brother of the victim, was also charged with first-degree child abuse in the case. He pleaded guilty in December 2023 and is expected to be sentenced in late February.