Heaven’s Law: Law named after special needs girl beaten so severely her stomach split open, puts new requirements on social workers

A new law that went into effect on July 1 in Virginia honors slain child, Heaven Watkins, a disabled 11-year-old girl who was found beaten to death on May 18, 2018, at her home in Norfolk.

“Heaven’s Law” requires social workers investigating possible child abuse or neglect in the commonwealth to check registries in other states from the previous five years, to see if there were other cases of abuse or neglect. 

Delegate Mike Mullin introduced the bill, which was later signed into law by Governor Ralph Northam, according to CBS 3. 

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“We should make every effort to make sure that someone doesn’t skip from one state to another and continue to abuse a child,” Mullin said. 

Heaven’s story began in Minnesota where she was born “extremely premature,” weighing just over a pound. She stayed in intensive care for three and half months and was eventually diagnosed with cerebral palsy, the Virginian-Pilot reports.

In 2015, Heaven was removed from the care of her mother, Latoya Smith, by a Ramsey County judge, after CPS determined she couldn’t protect her daughter from physical and sexual abuse.  

Heaven was prone to emotional outbursts, including hitting, scratching, and biting when she first went to live with her aunt, Sheronda Orridge, in St. Paul, Minnesota. 

Orridge had custody of Heaven until June 2016, according to KARE 11. The child showed remarkable improvements while in Orridge’s care.

“If you pay attention to Heaven, and you talk to Heaven, Heaven was very teachable,” Orridge said. “All it took was patience.”

Eventually Smith regained custody of Heaven, and the family moved to Virginia with Demont Harris, the woman’s fiancé.

“I begged and pleaded to keep Heaven,” Orridge said. “We were afraid something like this would happen. I actually predicted it.” 

In February 2018, Harris allegedly put Heaven’s hand under hot water until it burned her skin. The child was hospitalized for six days and had to get a skin graft.

Heaven was reportedly “punished” because she brought a toy into the bathtub. She was made to stand facing a corner in the bathroom, according to prosecutors. In an interview with police, Smith admitted that Harris punched Heaven two times in the chest and one time in the stomach. 

Smith eventually pleaded guilty to killing the little girl, while Harris, who pleaded not guilty, is still awaiting trial. His trial is scheduled for September 13.

Heaven Watkins Latoya Smith and Demont Harris
A Virginia woman and her fiancé charged with the murder of the woman’s 11-year-old daughter allegedly beat the child so seriously that her stomach was split open days before she was found dead. [Photo: Police Handout]

Heaven’s mother told police that beating her daughter and forcing her to stand in a corner for hours was the couple’s form of punishing her. Smith also reportedly admitted to only feeding her bread and water a few days before she was found dead. 

As previously reported by CrimeOnline, Heaven was beaten so seriously that the child’s stomach split open days before she died. While it’s unclear whether CPS knew of previous abuse allegations, the new law will ensure that social workers have case information from other states. 

Mom, boyfriend beat slain disabled girl so severely that her stomach split open: Report

Rich Gehrman, Executive Director of Safe Passage for Children of Minnesota, said, “Children are in even greater danger when they move from one state to another. That’s because records of abuse don’t automatically follow them.”

“There’s no requirement, there’s no clearinghouse,” he continued. “There’s a lot of concern about confidentiality and parent’s rights, but we think you have to balance that more on the side of the child and really quickly find out if there’s been a prior history.”

Hopefully, “Heaven’s Law” will encourage more states to pass legislation that will help tragedies like the one that happened to Heaven Watkins from occurring in the future. 

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[Feature Photo: Heaven Watkins/Handout]