A mother who left her two young children alone in their Rosedale townhouse for more than three hours last October, then returned to find them dead after a fire, pleaded guilty today in Baltimore County Circuit Court to reckless endangerment.
Jennifer Grant, 34, now of Hyattsville, agreed to the two-count guilty plea in exchange for Assistant State's Attorney Scott Shellenberger dropping two manslaughter charges. She faces a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a $5,000 fine on each count.
The children, Chakia Hall, 3, and her 17-month-old brother Shakir, died of smoke inhalation in the upstairs master bedroom of the home in the 6100 block of St. Regis Road, where their mother left them with the television on.
A statement of facts read at today's court hearing before Judge Thomas J. Bollinger revealed that the fire probably was set by one of the children playing with matches.
A pile of clothes sitting on a kitchen chair smoldered for a long time before bursting into flames, which consumed the kitchen and sent thick black smoke upstairs into the closed bedroom, the statement of facts said.
Sentencing is scheduled for May 28, after a pre-sentence report.
Grant said nothing in explanation today in court. She merely answered legal questions put to her as a result of the plea agreement.
Mr. Shellenberger said he agreed to drop the more serious charges at sentencing because Grant "is extremely remorseful."
"It's a tragedy, and the reckless endangerment conviction would sufficiently punish her for what she did," he said.
"There's no useful purpose in trying a case to get a manslaughter conviction."
The statement said Grant, who lived in the house with the two children, arose about 8 a.m. Oct. 17, made breakfast for one child, then returned to bed until noon, when she arose again to dress for a pre-surgical medical appointment at Union Memorial Hospital.
She called a cab and left the house about 12:40 p.m. She did not return until 4 p.m., about 40 minutes after the fire was discovered by a neighbor.
She became hysterical at the scene and was admitted to Franklin Square hospital, where she spent the next five days under treatment for shock.
Detective Michael Newberry of the Baltimore County police arson squad and Mr. Shellenberger said after today's hearing that Grant said Shakir was ill so she couldn't take him to the hospital, and she had no baby sitter. The children's father had spent the night in the home, but left that morning, she told police.
"She's paid a lot," Detective Newberry said, "but she did a wrong thing that can't be reversed."
Fire investigators found both the first-floor exterior doors locked when they arrived, but a basement door was unlocked, allowing easier entry. They did not know anyone was in the house and confined the blaze to the kitchen before finding the children's bodies in the second-floor bedroom. The television was still on.
Attempts to revive the children failed. Autopsies revealed heavy soot, smoke and carbon monoxide in their mouths and throats.
A neighbor, Wimpey Glover, said at the fire that he called police that day after seeing the smoke, but told the dispatcher the house was unoccupied because he never had seen Grant or her children and there were no curtains on the windows.