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OT: When it's Murder and When it's Not

Posted by on Aug. 6, 2014 at 12:31 PM
  • 11 Replies

Kids Who Die in Hot Cars: When It's Murder & When It's Not

by Kiri Blakeley

It seems like every other day, we hear of a child being left in a hot car to die. The circumstances are always strikingly similar. There is one parent driving the car. The parent gets distracted somehow. Perhaps the routine changes, even slightly. And then the parent goes to work, or home, or somewhere else, and simply forgets the child is there. Tragedy ensues. However, one thing can change radically, and that is whether or not the parent faces criminal charges, and what kind of charges he or she faces.

At the very least, a parent can have no charges filed against him or her, with everyone agreeing it was a terrible and tragic accident. Somewhere in the middle are child endangerment or neglect charges. On the high end are manslaughter or lesser-degree murder charges. And then you have the highest charge: first-degree murder. Justin Ross Harris faces felony murder and possibly an upgrade to murder with malice for leaving 22-month-old Cooper in the car while he went to work. Felony murder, according to CNN, is a "first-degree murder charge for an admittedly unintentional killing."

Yet prosecutors likely believe he premeditated the murder, and their case greatly hinges on Google searches he allegedly made about how long it would take a child to die in a car and the fact that while Cooper was dying, Ross Harris was sexting several women.

Another man being charged with first-degree murder is Seth Jackson of Wichita, Kansas. Prosecutors agree he did not intend to kill 10-month-old foster child Anna (the usual bar for that charge). But because Jackson was allegedly smoking pot while his foster daughter roasted to death in the car, he was hit with the highest murder charge because the death occurred during a felony, which was "aggravated endangering of a child," i.e., he was consuming illegal drugs while his child was in his care. (If this had been Colorado, it likely would have been a lesser charge.)

About 717 children have died of heatstroke in cars since 1990. There have been 20 deaths so far this year. And another study found that 60 percent of parents or caregivers will be criminally charged in cases where children died of heatstroke. About 30 percent faced no charges. (Parents from blue-collar families and those who were unemployed were much more likely to be prosecuted in cases of children dying from hypothermia in cars, Jennifer Collins concluded in her 2006 study "Crime and Parenthood.")

"Prosecutors have so much discretion," says Janet Johnson, a criminal defense attorney in Florida and frequent law commentator on news shows. "If they want to charge you, they'll find a way to do it. If they find you sympathetic, they'll think a jury might sympathize with you and not charge you, but also, they're human. It helps if they can relate to you."

Hence why a woman who left her children in a hot car in Oakland, California, last month wasn't charged when authorities thought she'd gone into a casino to use the bathroom. But once it became clear she was gambling, she was hit with jail time. (These particular children did not die.)

And it's unlikely that Hurricane, Utah, mom April Suwyn will be charged with murder in the death of 11-month-old Skyah, whom she forgot when she ran into the house to use the bathroom after a morning routine change on August 1. However, if further information comes out that throws doubt on April's story or character, that could change. (So far no charges have been filed.)

"There's a higher level of scrutiny if you don't have good character," says Johnson.

Indeed, while Justin Ross Harris's sexting of several women (including at least one underage teen) while Cooper roasted in the car may not prove he's a child killer, it doesn't say much about his character, and that is definitely not going to help his case.

If you are unlucky enough to forget your child in this manner, you could find yourself staring at the bars of a prison cell no matter if it was a tragic accident -- and the only thing that might save you is your character.

Such was likely the case with Lyn Balfour, the Army Reservist who was originally charged with second-degree murder and child neglect and felony abuse after she forgot her 9-month-old son, Bryce, in the car after a particularly exhausting week and stressful morning at work. The neglect and child abuse charges were dropped and the second-degree murder charge lessened to involuntary manslaughter. Then she was found not guilty.

Balfour's criminal case no doubt benefited from the fact that she was an upstanding citizen, veteran of the Army, and was at work that day doing her job -- not sexting or gambling.

Says Johnson: "If you look like you're a great mom every day of the week, and the police don't look at your cellphone and see a completely different picture, then you're likely to get the benefit of the doubt."

What do you think?
When is it murder and when is it not?

by on Aug. 6, 2014 at 12:31 PM
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Replies (1-10):
anchorgurl
by Silver Member on Aug. 6, 2014 at 2:23 PM

 I think it comes down to negligence in some of these cases where there is no clear intent.

If you're getting high while your child is in a hot car, yes, you are probably going to be charged.  Sexting young girls? Hitting the casino?  Having a few cold ones and lost track of time?  Yes, you should have paid more attention to the child strapped in the seat behind you. 

I also believe that accidents do sometimes happen and bad things happen to good people.  I understand why some people will be charged and others won't, and why some of those charged will not be found guilty.  

This happened to someone I went to high school with.  Their son was deaf and did not speak.  His wife usually took the child to daycare but she was home sick.  The father had to go to the bank to get cash from a paycheck he received the day before and then take the cash to the power and water companies to pay the bill, then drop the baby off at daycare, all before going to work that day.  He was also in college full time.  When he remembered that the child was still in the car, parked outside of where he worked, there was not a lot that could be done.  They had to take the baby off of life support because there was no brain activity.  I cannot even begin to imagine how badly he felt.  The local community made such a scene and drug that man and his family through the mud.  It was a terrible mistake and my heart just broke for him; there was a trial-he was found not guilty-but it didn't make how he was treated any easier.  He moved away after that.  Mistakes can happen and I'm just thankful that I have never been in that position.

Moorefam1
by Member on Aug. 6, 2014 at 4:02 PM
I personally don't see how someone accident leave their child in the car all day. But obviously it does happen. I have walked away from my car once while my daughter wAs still in there and 5 seconds later I realized it and it scared the living shit out of me and never happened again. I believe accidents can happen but the parents that purposely leave them in the car while they go in the store just so they don't have to deal with the kids is wrong in my opinion
darbyakeep45
by Darby on Aug. 8, 2014 at 4:37 AM
1 mom liked this

I will never understand the concept of "forgetting your child" in the car.  You forget to turn off the coffee pot, you forget to pick up milk at the store....you don't forget a human being.  

adoptivemomof1
by Mel on Aug. 9, 2014 at 11:16 PM
My thoughts exactly!

Quoting darbyakeep45:

I will never understand the concept of "forgetting your child" in the car.  You forget to turn off the coffee pot, you forget to pick up milk at the store....you don't forget a human being.  

mom2jessnky
by Dedi on Aug. 11, 2014 at 1:14 PM

I don't see what sexting has to do with anything. Other than with the underage teen, but that will be a different case for a different day.

He could just as easily be sexting at home and have nothing happen to his kid, so that to me isn't here or there. The fact that he was googling how long it takes a kid to die in a hot car though? THAT is premeditation.

mom2jessnky
by Dedi on Aug. 11, 2014 at 1:23 PM
1 mom liked this

Yeah I don't get it either. 

Here's a good tip for anyone that thinks they might though. Stick your cell phone in the back seat, you'll have to go back there to get it. Won't forget your kid, won't text and drive, win win. I think people should just make a point to not be on their phone at all in the car, that's where your brain gets overloaded and you start getting sloppy.

Quoting darbyakeep45:

I will never understand the concept of "forgetting your child" in the car.  You forget to turn off the coffee pot, you forget to pick up milk at the store....you don't forget a human being.  


SlapItHigh
by Platinum Member on Aug. 11, 2014 at 11:25 PM

I just think it's terribly sad either way.

mom2jessnky
by Dedi on Aug. 12, 2014 at 11:56 AM


Quoting Moorefam1: I personally don't see how someone accident leave their child in the car all day. But obviously it does happen. I have walked away from my car once while my daughter wAs still in there and 5 seconds later I realized it and it scared the living shit out of me and never happened again. I believe accidents can happen but the parents that purposely leave them in the car while they go in the store just so they don't have to deal with the kids is wrong in my opinion

I actually have a theory that the reason a parent can/does forget a kid in the car is because of what I made red above. They make it okay to leave a kid in the car "real quick" to pay for gas, to get a soda, to return a movie, to use the ATM, etc. Well now the auto pilot portion of the brain says "It's okay to leave that in the car" and then one day they do it for too long.

To me it's NEVER okay to leave a kid in the car, period. They come with me, or we're not going, simple as that. So my auto pilot takes me to the back seat when I get places.

.oOMellyOo.
by Silver Member on Aug. 12, 2014 at 12:12 PM

When routines change or an emergency arises I can definitely see how a parent/caregiver forgets. When I was working I had an early morning shift at the bank. It was DH's job to drop DD off at daycare that ONE morning. He got all the way to work, and realized that she was still there. She had fallen back asleep and was silent. When my sister was little my neighbor kept her during the day. Joy was sick one weekend and let my mom know that she couldn't keep her and mom found an alternate arrangement..... she got all the way to work and realized that my sister was there in the car, she had forgotten to drop her off of the other sitters. In both cases neither child was left, but what if DH had been met at the car by a solider with a problem, what if they were just shooting the shit on the way in and he never turned around? What if my mom at been called in to emergency surgery and hit the ground running when she parked her car? Would either of these cases would it be acceptable? Absolutely not, but I can understand how it could happen. And in cases like this, no amount of prison or punishment could possibly amount to the self loathing a parent feels.

mom2jessnky
by Dedi on Aug. 12, 2014 at 12:21 PM

I agree with the last, if it's truly an accident, nothing is going to make that person feel worse, heck I'd imagine they'd greet a firing squad (a real one) with open arms after that.

I don't get how it happens, but I know not every parent did it on purpose. I have the kids all of the time so maybe that's why I don't get it. Maybe parents that both work need to keep things mixed up if they can so that they don't go into auto pilot with the kids. I don't know. I know with my brother and SIL they don't have set days where one takes the kids, and one picks up. It's just whoever, but my nephews are 9 & 10 now so they wouldn't allow themselves to be forgotten.

Quoting .oOMellyOo.:

When routines change or an emergency arises I can definitely see how a parent/caregiver forgets. When I was working I had an early morning shift at the bank. It was DH's job to drop DD off at daycare that ONE morning. He got all the way to work, and realized that she was still there. She had fallen back asleep and was silent. When my sister was little my neighbor kept her during the day. Joy was sick one weekend and let my mom know that she couldn't keep her and mom found an alternate arrangement..... she got all the way to work and realized that my sister was there in the car, she had forgotten to drop her off of the other sitters. In both cases neither child was left, but what if DH had been met at the car by a solider with a problem, what if they were just shooting the shit on the way in and he never turned around? What if my mom at been called in to emergency surgery and hit the ground running when she parked her car? Would either of these cases would it be acceptable? Absolutely not, but I can understand how it could happen. And in cases like this, no amount of prison or punishment could possibly amount to the self loathing a parent feels.


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