Charges have been amended against a Missouri woman in connection with the death of her 15-month-old daughter.
Catherine White, 30, of Goodman, Mo., was originally charged with child neglect after her toddler was found dead in a local motel room in 2006.
District Attorney Eddie Wyant said Thursday that the language of an applicable state statute made it impossible to convict White for child neglect.
“Under current state law, there are (specific) elements listed that must be proven in order to convict someone of child neglect - lack of food, shelter, medical care and supervision,” Wyant said. “The use of the word ‘and' instead of ‘or' implies that all of the elements must be proven. The state can't prove all five elements exist.”
Wyant said Friday that the charges have been amended to “enabling child abuse.” If convicted, White could face up to 25 years in prison for her role in the death of her daughter.
According to court records, White, who was 28 years old at the time of the toddler's death, made a frantic 911 call at 12:53 p.m. on Feb. 26, 2006, and Miami police officers responded to her Steve Owens Boulevard motel room. There, they found the baby laying face down in a playpen and unresponsive.
White said she had been in a relationship with 31-year-old Travis Steed for approximately seven months prior to the incident. White and her children had been living at her parent's home in Goodman. Steed was staying in Miami while working doing construction work in the the area.
White told authorities that, on Feb. 22, she left her three older children, all under the age of 7, in Goodman with her parents and drove to Miami to stay with Steed, bringing her infant daughter with her. Authorities said White left the baby with Steed on Feb. 25 and drove back to Goodman to pick up her other children.
White told authorities that, while she was gone, Steed made repeated phone calls to her and was aggravated as he demanded that she drive to Arkansas to purchase methamphetamine for him.
"During the phone conversations, Catherine said she could hear McKenna crying in the background," Miami Police Detective Todd Hicks said. "She could tell by the tone of his voice that Travis was drunk and very angry."
White told Hicks that she arrived back at the motel room at approximately 12:30 a.m. and observed McKenna laying face down in the playpen. Assuming the infant had fallen asleep, White said she, too, went to sleep.
White said she ordered food at approximately 11:30 a.m. and asked Steed to go pick it up. She told authorities that, while Steed was gone, she decided to check on the baby because the other children's loud playing did not wake the baby up.
"When Catherine bent down to rub McKenna's back, she realized McKenna was dead," Hicks said. "She became hysterical and called 911."
According to the state's medical examiner, the baby died from blunt force trauma to the head.
Steed was arrested and charged with first-degree murder. On June 12, Judge Robert Haney declared a mistrial after a jury could not come to a unanimous decision.
A new trial is expected sometime this fall.