Criminal Justice

Foster dad charged with felony murder in baby's accidental hot-car death; could get life sentence


A foster father in Kansas is facing a felony murder case after his 10-month-old foster daughter died when he forgot to take her out of the car after arriving at their Wichita home, reports the Wichita Eagle. The girl was in the car in the 90-degree day for up to 2½ hours. Seth Michael Jackson, 29, and his partner had planned to adopt the baby, one of six children they were caring for.

The predicate felony is aggravated child endangerment “under circumstances manifesting extreme indifference to the value of human life.” If convicted, Jackson could get life in prison.

An additional second-degree murder charge in the Sedgwick County case accuses Jackson of recklessly causing the baby’s death “under circumstances manifesting extreme indifference to the value of human life.” However, neither charge implies any intentional conduct or premeditation, District Attorney Marc Bennett told the newspaper.

This is in contrast to a Georgia man who was charged with felony murder last month over his toddler’s death in a parked vehicle. Authorities said there was more to that story than simple carelessness. As details of the prosecution’s case against Justin Ross Harris, 33, came out, some suggested possible premeditation, including an alleged Internet search to find out how hot-car deaths occur. Harris, though, reportedly told police he had done the research to learn how to prevent such a tragedy.

Jackson, who according to his attorney has no prior criminal history, is jailed in lieu of $250,000 bond. A court order says he cannot have any contact with his mother, his partner or the couple’s other children, who are considered potential witnesses in the case.

Attorney John Stang represents Jackson and told NBC News his client feels terrible about the baby’s death. However, the criminal charges are excessive for an accidental death in a case that involves no other abuse or neglect concerning any of the children in the family, the attorney says.

“I’m not trying to say it’s not a horrible loss. The death of a child is an awful thing,” Stang said. “But this person is looking at 15 more years than someone who was driving drunk and ran into a car and killed someone.”

The Kansas Department for Children and Families announced that it was launching a larger review of all foster homes which had children placed with them by the contracting agency which had worked with Jackson and his partner, and said that the department supported the criminal charges against Jackson.

The penalty for accidentally causing a child’s death under such circumstances varies substantially from state to state and from case to case. Some parents are convicted, ordinarily on lesser charges than murder, and serve time; others are never charged.

A CNN article about the Justin Harris case discusses the felony murder concept and explains why convicting a defendant of first-degree murder because someone died during the commission of a felony is controversial.

Hat tip: New York Daily News

See also:

ABAJournal.com: “2 Babies Die in Hot Cars, 1 Dad in Prison”

East Atlanta Patch: “2 Babies Dead: How Does a Parent Forget a Child in a Hot Car? (And How to Prevent It)”

KSBW: “Los Gatos dad who left baby in hot car cleared of all charges”

Washington Post (reg. req.): “Forgetting a child in the back seat of a hot, parked car is a horrifying, inexcusable mistake. But is it a crime?”

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