The mother of a 15-month-old baby found dead in a Miami motel in 2006 pleaded guilty to enabling child abuse and has returned to Missouri, where she has been reunited with her children.
“I am so excited to be home,” said White. “My kids haven't left me alone since I got here.”
Catherine White, 30, of Goodman, Mo. was sentenced to 25 years with all but the first 10 months suspended - time she has already served.
District Attorney Eddie Wyant amended the original charge of child neglect due to an “error in the state statute” that Wyant said made it impossible to convict White on those charges.
“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 the elements exist.”
Back home in Missouri
“We wanted to surprise the kids so we didn't tell them I was coming home,” said White. “When we were coming up the road I laid down in the back seat and covered up.”
White's three children have been living with their grandparents since she was arrested last year on child neglect charges.
“When we got to the house I told the kids I had a surprise for them but it was too heavy so they were going to have to get it out of the car,” said Helen White, Catherine White's mother.
White said when the kids looked in the car she popped up from the seat.
“The just stood there shocked looking at me,” Catherine White said. “Then, finally, they yelled ‘mom'.”
Catherine White's youngest daughter, McKenna Jade White, was found unresponsive in a Miami motel room on the afternoon of Feb. 26, 2006.
White had left her daughter in the care of her live-in boyfriend, Travis Steed, 31, was later charged with first-degree murder.
On June 12, Judge Robert Haney declared a mistrial after a 12-member jury could not reach a unanimous decision to find Steed guilty or not guilty of murder.
A new trial is expected sometime this fall.
“It has been hell on our family,” said Helen White. “Cathy's dad and I have had to take over the roll of caring for the children while she's been in jail. It's been hard on them being away from their mother. We're just so glad this part of it is over and she's home.”
As far as Catherine White's role in McKenna's death, Helen White says her daughter has been punished enough.
“She made a mistake - she made some wrong choices,” Helen White said. “But she is a good momma and she would never have left ‘Bitty' (McKenna) with Travis if she thought he would have hurt her.”