A Visalia woman whose 3-year-old daughter died in March from what prosecutors say were injuries inflicted by the woman’s boyfriend also will face criminal charges in the girl’s death, a Tulare County assistant district attorney confirmed Wednesday.
Nicole Lee, 29, was arrested Tuesday in Visalia by district attorney investigators. She pleaded not guilty Wednesday to charges of child endangerment, with a special allegation of causing willful harm or injury leading to death, and possession of marijuana and drug paraphernalia.
The arrest and arraignment come five months after the death of Lee’s daughter, Natalynn Miller, on March 22. An autopsy report showed the girl died from blunt-force trauma to her head and body.
Ryann Jones, 26, Lee’s live-in boyfriend, has been charged with first-degree murder and child abuse causing death.
Natalynn died while in Jones’ care at the couple’s rented apartment in the 3600 block of West Hillsdale Drive, police reported. On March 22, Lee left Jones and the child at the apartment to go to work, investigators said.
Jones told police that the girl bumped her head on a wall while running around the living room. Later, he said, he heard a loud thump in a bedroom where Natalynn had been playing, according to police reports.
Jones said he discovered the girl unconscious and called 911, police reported.
When police arrived, the child was not breathing and had a faint pulse, a Visalia police spokesman said at the time. The child was pronounced dead at Kaweah Delta Medical Center.
Assistant District Attorney Don Gallian said evidence discovered during his office’s ongoing investigation led to Lee’s arrest. He would disclose no details about that evidence Wednesday.
The drug charges against Lee stem from a May 11 incident, according to court records. No other details about those allegations were provided.
A police report in the case also mentions occasions in which Natalynn was found to have injuries that appeared suspicious to the girl’s relatives. Jones’ parents said they often saw bruises after the girl had been in Lee’s custody, according to the report.
Ryann Jones is quoted in the report as calling the child “clumsy” and saying she was accident-prone. Another part of the report states that Jones recently had attended anger-management classes.
Jones was arrested three days after Natalynn’s death. He pleaded not guilty to single counts of murder and child abuse.
Lee’s next court appearance will be on Aug. 21, for a bail hearing. She is currently being held at the Bob Wiley Detention Facility on $50,000 bail.
A preliminary-hearing setting for Jones is scheduled for Sept. 24.
Subsequent court proceedings could determine whether the two cases are tried separately or together, Gallian said.