An attorney for the former owner of the now-defunct Wanda’s Kids World said Tuesday she does not believe the woman is criminally responsible for the July 2009 death of a 3-year-old girl left inside a day-care center van for nearly six hours outside the facility.
“Although it’s a tragedy, I just don’t see any criminal culpability on her behalf,’’ Gail Ray, who represents Wanda Connor, said after a brief hearing in the negligent homicide case.
East Baton Rouge Parish District Attorney Hillar Moore III, who stressed that Connor and her two co-defendants are presumed innocent, said later he feels all three women are criminally responsible.
“We’re not alleging it was an intentional criminal act,’’ Moore said.
Connor, 49, and former Wanda’s Kids World employees Michelle Yvette Veals, 41, and Kyandrea Thomas, 29, were indicted in November on one count each of negligent homicide in the July 1, 2009, death of D’Myion McElveen.
The National Weather Service and a lawsuit filed by the child’s parents said the temperature reached 99 degrees the day the girl died. The coroner ruled the cause of death was hyperthermia, or overheating of the body.
Moore has said Veals drove the van that picked up D’Myion and her three siblings from their home that morning. Thomas was an aide in the van, he said.
Veals and Thomas attended Tuesday’s hearing, but Connor did not.
Prosecutor Charles Grey essentially told state District Judge Mike Erwin that the District Attorney’s Office has made an overture to the defense attorneys in the case.
Later, Moore — who noted he does not consider the conduct charged in the case to be a “jailable offense’’ — said he is seeking proposals from the defense.
Negligent homicide is punishable by up to five years in prison, but probation is a possible sentence.
“We haven’t made any offers,’’ Moore said.
The district attorney, though, said he believes a suspended sentence would be appropriate in light of the defendants’ lack of criminal records and the fact that his office is alleging criminal negligence rather than intentional conduct.
“The goal is to let them accept responsibility and let the family know what happened,’’ he said.
Veals’ attorney, Ron Johnson, said he is “in negotiations’’ with the District Attorney’s Office.
“Our position is that our client did not do anything improper …’’ he said. “We certainly sympathize with the (victim’s) family.’’
Thomas’ attorney, Stephen LeBlanc, said prosecutors “have said all along they’re willing to work out something probatable.’’
“We just want to get a fair resolution,’’ he added. “My client’s a nice young lady.’’
The next court hearing is Oct. 20.
The state revoked Wanda’s Kids World’s license the day after D’Myion died, marking the fourth time the center’s license had been pulled.
Wanda’s was cited four times in 2008 because staff members failed to check the facility’s van to make sure there were no children left aboard, according to information from the former state Department of Social Services.
The center also was cited in May 2009 for failing to provide an adequate staff-to-child ratio while transporting children under 5 years of age.
D’Myion was found inside the van shortly before 3 p.m. on July 1, 2009, authorities have said.
Moore has said a Wanda’s day-care center log book indicated D’Myion was checked into the Brady Street facility at 9 a.m. and checked out at 4 p.m. that day. The child’s distinctive backpack also was found inside the center, he said.