A Michigan mother who was found guilty of m*urder in the starvation d*eath of her son vomited after being shown pictures of his malnourished body as she testified during her trial.
Shanda Vander Ark, 44, had been accused of abu*sing her 15-year-old son, Timothy Ferguson, who died in July 2022, weighing just 69 pounds, showing signs of malnutrition and hypothermia. The cause of the de*ath for the boy, who according to authorities suffered from disabilities, was ruled a homicide.
Vander Ark was found guilty of mu*rder and child ab*use by a Muskegon County jury Friday, online court records indicate. She will face a mandatory life sentence at a sentencing hearing in January.
Trial & verdict
The jury in the m*urder trial of a mother accused of neglecting and ab*using her teenage son to the point he died in the basement of their Norton Shores home began deliberations Friday afternoon.
Jurors came back into the courtroom just before 4:30 p.m. Friday with their verdict.
They found Shanda Vander Ark guilty of both first-degree m*urder and first-degree child a*buse in the dea*th of her 15-year-old son, Timothy Ferguson.
The jury got the case just after 2:35 p.m., following closing statements from both sides, and a short rebuttal from the prosecutor’s office.
Judge Kacel also gave the jury the opportunity to consider the lesser charges of either voluntary or involuntary manslaughter.
Vander Ark’s 15-year-old son Timothy Ferguson was found dead when officers arrived at their house on Marshall Road on July 6, 2022.
During her time on the stand Thursday afternoon, she would cause the court to break temporarily after seemingly throwing up or dry heaving after being shown a photo of Timothy’s bod
After testifying for several hours, Vander Ark began hyperventilating and showing signs of some sort of mental breakdown.
As her defense attorney Fred Johnson stood with his hand on her shoulder, trying to comfort his client, he asked Judge Matthew Kacel to wrap for the day.
Things didn’t get going until just before 11:00 a.m. Friday; Vander Ark nowhere to be seen.
“She may not be present for the rest of the trial,” Judge Kacel told the jury once they were brought in.
He explained that her absence had nothing to do with any sort of legal order.
“She’s unable to be here for a medical issue. We will continue the trial in her absence.”
While the bulk of her direct examination, and cross examination by prosecutors, was complete, she had not yet submitted to the questions submitted by jurors following her initial time on the stand.
“Unfortunately, we will be unable to do that,” Judge Kacel said.
Lt Joel Hoeksema took the stand on behalf of prosecutors by 11:08 a.m., bringing with him a bottle of hot sauce.
The bottle allegedly one of the tools used by Shanda and her older son Paul Ferguson to punish Timothy.
The officer reads the name of the sauce to the jury.
“Elijah’s Xtreme Regret,” Hoeksema reads.
Inside are two of the world’s hottest peppers; Trinidad Scorpion and Carolina Reaper.
He goes on to read some of the text on the side of the bottle.
“The pain becomes unbearable and you feel like you just ate a burning hot coal. That’s when you realize… extreme regret. Use with extreme caution or you will regret it.”
Vander Ark previously told the court that she purchased the particularly spicy hot sauce online after Paul figured it might be a good way to punish Timothy.
Despite this narrative, she also said that Timothy was a big fan of spicy food in general.
“He didn’t like eating the hot sauce, did he,” Prosecutor Matt Roberts pressed her on the stand.
“Yes he did,” she said forcefully. “He ate spicy food.”
A text message between Vander Ark and her son Paul Ferguson showed her questioning whether they should try dropping the hot sauce on Timothy’s genitals.
“I wonder how it would feel to have that hot sauce on your private parts. I’m not saying touch him there, not at all, but dripping a little bit there, is that horrible,” she allegedly asked the then-19-year-old Paul.
Roberts asked her about the exchange as he cross-examined her.
“It just popped in your head to say, I wonder what hot sauce on your private parts would be like,” the prosecutor asked.
“I have no idea,” she replied.
“Did you ever try that hot sauce?”
“No, i don’t like spicy food like Timothy… about the hottest I can handle is jalapeno Cheetos.”
“So you never ate it, but administering it as punishment without trying it was okay?”
“Yes, I have a very weak stomach, so I didn’t want to throw up.”
Vander Ark also claimed on the stand Thursday that she had locked up the family’s fridge, freezer, and pantry because of Timothy previously trying to sneak frozen food, and uncooked meat.
She spoke of a time when Timothy got into the fridge overnight and allegedly ate a full bag of frozen chicken nuggets.
Roberts tried pointing out a contradiction in her logic; bringing her attention to a text message sent the day before Tim died in which she told Paul he should give his brother two pizza rolls if he behaves in the bathtub.
“Tell him if he actually sits up by himself and stays sitting up, he’ll get some pizza rolls. Don’t tell him its only two, and I’m okay if they are frozen rather than cooked,” her message to Paul read.
Roberts drilled her on the stand, “why did you send that message?”
“I dont know,” she said, visibly frustrated.
“You don’t remember that one either,” Roberts shot back.
Vander Ark and her defense have explained over and over during trial that because of her multiple mental ailments, she has trouble remembering the period of time in question.
She is accused of covering the house and the closet Timothy was sleeping in with motion sensors, alarms, and live feed cameras.
In the hours immediately before Tim’s de*ath, Paul also allegedly put his brother in an ice bath for approximately nine hours.
Prosecutors revealed late Thursday that they had a video of the moment they believe Timothy died, while trying to sleep in his “room”, a small closet located under the basement stairs.
Investigators say they discovered a MicroSD card inside a surveillance camera, which was mounted in the corner of the small room.
Judge Kacel deemed the video too prejudicial to be played for the jury, but Lt. Hoeksema described what he witnessed in it.
“Miss Vander Ark is observed placing a tarp in the closet and spreading it out as a makeshift bed,” he said.
“After she lays the tarp on the floor, she is seen dragging Tim by the arms onto the tarp and into the room.”
He describes Timothy’s eyes being open, but appearing to be unresponsive for the most part.
“He didn’t speak at all, he moaned a few times. It was very concerning watching that, and seeing his appearance,” he described.
“Very thin, bones protruding. In particular, he wasn’t wearing any pants, so I could see his hip bones and his knee joint very prominently displayed as she positioned him in front of the camera.”
Timothy is apparently wearing an adult diaper in the video.
“I could hear Miss Vander Ark tell Timothy he is pathetic, then say ‘but I already knew that’ when she drags him in, and she also makes a comment about him owing her the biggest apology in the world,” Lt. Hoeksema said.
Vander Ark leaves the closet room, and returns about 15 minutes later. Prosecutors believe this is the last time anybody sees Tim alive.
“He was taking short shallow breaths through his mouth, kind of picture how a fish out of water would breathe, and she clamps his mouth shut and tells him he doesn’t need to breathe like that, and holds his mouth shut for a period of time… and tells him, ‘see you didn’t need to breathe through your mouth like that, you’re being a dummy,” he explains.
Matt Roberts asks the Lieutenant if there is a point in the video where Timothy appears to die.
“It appears that way to me,” he responds.
“He can be seen, his chest rising, lowering very slightly, small little movements and then there’s a point in time where you stop seeing that, and his body just relaxes and it appears to me he dies at that point.”
They allege that she suffers from attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, sensory processing disorder, and obsessive compulsive disorder, which cause her to have blackouts in her recall.
She also claims to have developed PTSD following her husband Adam suffering a stroke in January of 2022.
Adam already used a wheelchair to get around their bi-level home. After his stroke, he moved out of the family home and into his parents house in West Olive.
In addition to her PTSD, Vander Ark claims this event caused Timothy to go on a prolonged hunger strike.
Vander Ark said she is also reactive hypoglycemic, which was made “much worse” after Tim’s birth.
In all, Vander Ark has five biological children— Paul, Timothy, a boy referred to in court as “G”, who was eight at the time Tim died.
She also has an older son named Nolan who is now 23, and a 19-year-old daughter named Millie, who attends college in Oklahoma.
Paul Ferguson testified on behalf of prosecutor’s in his mother’s trial, facing a first degree child a*buse charge himself.
“I’d say it’s something close to Stockholm Syndrome,” Paul said on the stand.
“I desire to find a role model that, due to my own low self-esteem, I would do anything to make them proud of me. That’s not an excuse, I know, but i feel like I’m glad I was at least able to realize it, so I could correct it.”
Just before noon on Friday, prosecutors played a video for the jury showing the time between when Vander Ark and Ferguson discovered Timothy was unresponsive and when they called 911, caught on one of the surveillance cameras mounted in the family home.
Prosecutors say there was an 18 minute period before they finally called authorities.
While Judge Kacel asked media present in the courtroom not to film the video playback, the audio was clear.
Vander Ark and Paul Ferguson are heard trying to wake Timothy, before calling 911, and explaining that the 15-year-old had gone on a hunger strike.
Ferguson has said in court that Timothy never truly went on a hunger strike, explaining that it was simply something his mother came up with to try and obscure what happened.
Court broke for lunch at noon Friday after Judge Kacel discussed how he would instruct jurors for deliberations.
Vander Ark’s sentencing is set for the morning of Monday, January 29.