Homicide is treated very seriously in Texas. At one end of the spectrum is capital murder which can lead to the death penalty. Criminally negligent homicide is at the other end of the scale.
A charge of criminally negligent homicide is brought only in very specific cases. This month, a jury in Collin County found a father who left a baby in a hot car guilty of the crime.
However, 35-year-old Michael Thedford, 35, won’t serve any jail time following an agreement reached by defense attorneys and prosecutors.
The Dallas Morning News reported Thedford’s baby girl died of heat stroke. She was left for hours in the family’s sweltering minivan. A jury decided the death of the 6-month-old girl was more than just a horrific mistake following a weeklong trial and five hours of deliberations.
The jurors acquitted Thedford of tampering with evidence after he placed his daughter Fern in a refrigerator to cool her down. Although the jury found Thedford guilty of abandoning or endangering a child, prosecutors said they would abandon that count.
Thedford told authorities he forgot his daughter was in the family’s minivan when he returned home around 9 a.m. He fell asleep and discovered the child dead more than four hours later. Temperatures rose into the mid-90s on the day of the child’s death.
Prosecutors said he made at least 16 false statements after discovering the baby had died.
He initially told 911 dispatch and first responders he found Fern lying in her bassinet in the air-conditioned home.
Judge Barnett Walker sentenced Thedford to two years in jail but probated the sentence for five years. Thedford is required to volunteer for two hours on Fern’s birthday for every year he is on probation with an organization that raises awareness of hot-car deaths. He was fined $1,000 and ordered to serve 120 hours of community service.
What is Criminally Negligent Homicide in Texas?
Under Section 19.05 of the Texas Penal Code, criminally negligent homicide is causing the death of another through criminal negligence.
A reasonable person is expected to perform certain actions during emergencies, according to the Texas Penal Code. For example, a motorist who is involved in a car accident is expected to call 911 and help victims.
Obvious safety lapses that result in the death of another could lead to a charge of criminally negligent homicide such as in the case of a building site manager who declines to provide a hard hat to an employee who later dies from a falling object that hits his head.
There are similarities between the charge of criminally negligent homicide and manslaughter. Both crimes involve the killing of another person without premeditation. However, the punishment for criminally negligent homicide is less severe than manslaughter, which refers to the death of another person caused by recklessness.
A defendant charged with manslaughter is accused of a reckless disregard for another person’s life. An example would be firing a gun into the air during a celebration and randomly killing another person. Criminally negligent homicide involves an omission rather than a reckless act.
Thedford was originally charged with manslaughter but a judge ruled there was insufficient evidence for a conviction.
Texas leads the nation in hot-car deaths and those who are responsible don’t always face criminal charges.
However, in rare cases, parents who leave their children in hot cars have been charged with murder.
In 2016, Georgia father Justin Ross Harris was jailed for murder after leaving his toddler son in a hot car.
Jurors convicted of Harris of malice murder and other charges in the June 18, 2014, death of 22-month-old Cooper who was left in a car for seven hours in sweltering heat near Atlanta. Jurors believed Harris left the little boy to die on purpose to rid himself of parental responsibility.
Harris was also convicted of felony murder, cruelty to children in the first and second degree, sexual exploitation of and dissemination of harmful material to minors.
The stakes are high in homicide cases. Our Dallas violent crimes lawyers offer a vigorous defense to these charges. Please contact us today if you have been charged with a homicide crime.