The charge against Katherine Elizabeth Papke, 35, of leaving a child unattended in a motor vehicle was dismissed this morning by District Court Judge Chris McIntyre. She remains charged with manslaughter.
Jennifer Weems, Calhoun County assistant district attorney, said that after her office further reviewed the charge she found it was not appropriate.
“We just felt like this was the appropriate action to take after further reviewing the enacted bill to move forward on the manslaughter charge,” Weems said. “Manslaughter is a superior charge and it will remain in place.”
Papke was charged Friday after she called police, having discovered she’d left her infant son in her car in a parking lot at McClellan, where she works, according to her attorney. The infant, Bennett Owen Smith, was later pronounced dead at Regional Medical Center.
The charge of leaving the child unattended came under a law enacted Aug. 1. Police said Papke was the first Anniston resident charged with the crime.
Weems said the new law says paid childcare providers can be found guilty of a felony if they leave a child unattended in a motor vehicle. The original draft of the bill, Weems said, could have applied to anyone who leaves a child in a vehicle.
Sen. Vivian Figures of Mobile sponsored the bill, the Amiyah White Motor Vehicle Act, named after a toddler who died in Mobile in 2005 after a daycare worker left her in a hot van. Figures said that when she drafted the bill in 2006, it included anyone who left a child unattended in a car. Figures said it was taken out because legislators were concerned it could target parents who left their children in a car for a minute while they ran into a grocery store. That’s something Figures said she still hopes to change.
“I feel that everybody should be accountable and responsible for a child’s welfare if that child is left in their care, whether they are for hire or not,” Figures said.
The senator said she plans to introduce an amendment to the law’s current version to apply it to anyone caring for a child.
“These poor babies can’t fend for themselves,” she said.
Jim Sturdivant, Papke’s lawyer, said he filed a motion to dismiss the charge Tuesday afternoon, but the motion filed by the District Attorney’s Office was granted before his was officially filed.
“We’re very appreciative of the fact that they sought the dismissal as well and that the judge granted it,” Sturdivant said.
Sturdivant said he’s giving Papke and her family some time to grieve and make arrangements for the infant’s funeral.
“They are just focusing on coming together as a family and doing what they can to say goodbye to this precious baby,” the lawyer said.
The next step in the case, Sturdivant said, is to discuss with the DA’s office the possibility of dismissing the case entirely.
Staff Writer Rachael Brown: 256-235-3562. On Twitter @RBrown_Star.