WICHITA, Kan. — A Wichita mother has been sentenced to probation after being convicted in connection to the death of her child, who died in a fire last year.
Three girls, ages, four, six and seven, were alone at a home in the 3900 block of East Countryside last July when one of them found a lighter. The six-year-old began playing with the lighter and caught her clothes on fire. The girl ran to a nearby bedroom and began taking her clothes off, and caught the room on fire.
Neighbors could hear a smoke alarm and ran over to help the girls get out before fire crews arrived. Two of the girls were treated for smoke inhalation, but the six-year-old died three days later.
Police later arrested Ruthie Lee Bell, the mother of the girls, and Adrian Johnson. In court, Bell said Johnson gave her a ride to her mother's house, and she thought he was going back to the house to watch the children.
Last month, Bell pleaded no contest to three counts of aggravated endangering a child and two counts of aggravated interference with parental custody.
Tuesday morning before her sentencing, Bell's attorney asked the judge to depart from usual guidelines per the plea agreement, saying she would be eligible for parole in this case if not for a previous juvenile offense. The attorney also said Bell has been taking parenting classes so she can keep her other children. Judge Joe Bribiesca said the move would be noticed by the public. "It's the type of plea agreement that certainly will raise some eyebrows in the community", said Bribiesca.
District Attorney Marc Bennett said he agreed with the sentencing guidelines departure, and said Bell also waived her right to appeal the conviction. He agreed that if not for the juvenile record, Bell would be eligible for probation. He also said she could pursue getting her two children back. He also said he has heard from the public on the case. "There were some in the community who said you know she's suffered enough, she left her kids alone, I mean why are you going after her at all"? said Bennett. "On the other side a child died and it was her responsibility, she should go to prison. These are difficult cases."
Bell told the judge how sorry she was about the death of her daughter, and that she wants to be the best mother she can be. She said her kids don't deserve to be without their mother. "Losing my daughter has devastated me in so many ways and I just can't explain", said Bell. "And I just want for my kids blessed enough to make it through this.. I just want to be allowed to love them."
Judge Bribiesca then sentenced Bell to 75 months in prison, but suspended that in lieu of 36 months, or 3 years, of probation and 40 hours of community service. The judge also ordered that Bell take anger management classes and submit to drug testing. He said if she violated the conditions of her probation, she would serve more than six years in prison.
The district attorney said this was a long and difficult plea negotiation, and was reached based on the evidence and what was best for all parties.
Last month, co-defendant Johnson pleaded guilty to three counts of aggravated endangering of a child and two counts of possession of a controlled substance. He's scheduled to be sentenced on Thursday.