NEWPORT NEWS — A Newport News grand jury has indicted a day care provider who was caring for a 5-month-old girl when the baby choked to death in her car seat in April.
This time, Tamecca Sheri Clay, 38, now of Hampton, faces an involuntary manslaughter charge in addition to the original felony child neglect count.
The decision by the Commonwealth's Attorney's Office to seek a direct indictment came after Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court Judge Judith A. Kline threw out the case. She ruled Sept. 21 that there wasn't enough evidence of criminal negligence to proceed with the felony child neglect charge.
But prosecutors can ask a grand jury to issue an indictment even if a lower court judge rules against them. Clay was indicted Oct. 13 and a warrant for her arrest was issued the same day.
A trial date will be set after Clay is arrested.
On Feb. 4, Clay was watching the 5-month-old infant when she left the car seat on the floor of her Kiln Creek home and stepped away for about 10 minutes, going downstairs to greet her daughter at the door, according to Clay's lawyer, Timothy G. Clancy. Several other children were at the home at the time.
While Clay was away, the car seat tilted forward, perhaps caused by movement from the child, Clancy said. The tilting caused one of the straps to press against the child's throat. When Clay came back, the child was unconscious. Clay called for paramedics, and the infant was pronounced dead at a local hospital. An autopsy determined the child died of asphyxiation.
Police originally classified the case as an accident, not a homicide. If it proceeds as a manslaughter case, however, the death could be added to Newport News' 2009 homicide tally, bringing the current count to 20 rather than 19.
Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Brian Smalls said the new manslaughter charge, in addition to the child neglect charge, is warranted. "Both of these charges are sustainable based on the facts of this case," Smalls said.
"Not all the evidence is heard at the lower level," he said. "I don't want to go into details, but I believe it is proper to go forward based on what will be presented at trial."
Clancy said after the Sept. 21 hearing that Clay was very remorseful, and he hoped there would be no direct indictment.
When told Monday of the indictment, Clancy said, "Oh, heck
Neither he nor Clay was aware of the grand jury's action.
"I'm disappointed that the Commonwealth elected to indict on these charges, particularly in light of the ruling by the JDR court," Clancy said. "Both of the charges require proof of criminal negligence, so I would expect the same defense would apply."