A Baker woman accepted a plea agreement Friday that does not require her to serve any jail time in exchange for a no-contest plea to a negligent homicide charge in the October 2010 death of a 2-month-old Zachary infant who was in her care.
Ashley Rene Reifer, 27, was scheduled to stand trial Aug. 24 on a second-degree murder charge in the death of Brody Hopper. A conviction on that charge would have carried a mandatory sentence of life in prison.
State District Judge Chip Moore, under the terms of a plea deal, gave Reifer a suspended five-year prison sentence Friday and put her on active supervised probation for five years. She also is barred from working at any day care facility for the next five years.
Brody’s mother, Amy Hopper, insisted justice was not served Friday but said she would not feel differently even with Reifer behind bars for the rest of her life.
“The piece of our hearts that is missing cannot be mended by time served here on earth. She has God to answer to now,” Hopper said after court.
East Baton Rouge Parish prosecutors stressed that Reifer’s felony conviction cannot be removed from her record.
The pathologist who performed Brody’s autopsy testified at a 2011 hearing that the procedure revealed multiple brain hemorrhages, even though there was no sign of trauma to his skull or the rest of the exterior of his body. Dr. Bruce Wainer concluded it was more likely than not that Brody’s injuries resulted from being shaken.
But prosecutor Steve Danielson said Friday that medical experts could offer a number of explanations for what might have triggered the hemorrhaging, including non-intentional acts.
Danielson, who noted that no one saw Reifer do anything to Brody, said she accepted responsibility for being criminally negligent in her care of the child, or not rendering aid to someone in her care.
Brody was strapped into his car seat, bleeding from the nose and unresponsive when his father picked him up on the afternoon of Oct. 28, 2010. The child was at the now-closed Busy Bee Learning Center on Groom Road in Baker, where Reifer worked, court documents indicate.
Workers at the center described Brody’s morning that day as routine and normal, and said the child was in the exclusive care of Reifer from 12:20 p.m. until Derek Hopper — Brody’s father — arrived several hours later, the documents state.
Amy Hopper acknowledged the case was not an easy one but said Friday’s outcome “is still a win.”
“We hold tight in our faith that today’s plea bargain was God’s way of putting us at peace,” she said afterward. “We will always grieve, but today, a long chapter has closed.”
Inside the courtroom, the grieving mother said she and her husband have been robbed of a lifetime of wonderful memories.
“We visit his grave instead of celebrating milestones,” she said.
Brody’s mother also placed the blame for her son’s death squarely on Reifer’s shoulders.
“Instead of calling for help, she left him to die,” she said.
When the judge asked Reifer if she wanted to say anything before he sentenced her, Reifer’s attorney, Lance Unglesby, answered “no” for her.
Unglesby has remained steadfast in his criticism of Wainer’s medical conclusions in the case.
“As the case progressed, I brought to light opinions from some of the pre-eminent experts in the field across the country, and both parties’ understanding of the science grew,” Unglesby said.
He credited Danielson and the entire East Baton Rouge Parish District Attorney’s Office for spending an enormous amount of time learning the science involved and making sure their approach to the case was based on sound science.
“While today certainly won’t heal the wounds caused by what happened, I do hope that it will at least in some small part bring a measure of closure to both the Hopper family and to Ms. Reifer,” Unglesby said.
A no-contest plea carries the same weight as a guilty plea in criminal court but cannot be used against a defendant in civil court.