A mother who left her two young children alone in their Rosedale town house for more than three hours last October, then returned to find them dead after a fire, pleaded guilty yesterday 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.
Chakia Hall, 3, and her 17-month-old brother, Shakir, died of smoke inhalation in the upstairs master bedroom of the house in the 6100 block of St. Regis Road, where their mother left them with the television on.
A statement of facts read at the court hearing before Judge Thomas J. Bollinger indicated 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 said.
Sentencing is scheduled for May 28, after a pre-sentence report.
Grant said nothing in explanation yesterday in court. She merely answered legal questions put to her as a result of the plea agreement. She had no comment after the hearing, said her lawyer, Christopher M. Davis, who said the whole affair was "a tragedy."
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. She made breakfast for one child, the statement said, then returned to bed until noon, when she arose 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.
She became hysterical and was admitted to Franklin Square Hospital Center, where she spent the next five days under treatment for shock. She has been free on bail in the custody of her mother and two sisters.
Detective Michael Newberry of the Baltimore County police arson squad and Mr. Shellenberger said after yesterday's court hearing that Grant had said Shakir was ill so she couldn't take him with her 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 of 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 fire 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 scene 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.