The child neglect case described by Washington County, TN Sheriff’s Office investigators as one of the worst they’ve ever worked took a surprise twist
Wednesday. Just before lunch, one of the people charged in connection to the neglect of several children walked out of jail a free woman
“I just want everybody to know that I didn’t do anything to harm them,” Leona Bentler
said of the children just minutes after walking out of jail. “I tried to keep them clean. I tried to keep them safe.”
The parents and grandmother of the five kids in question will soon go before the Washington County Grand Jury, but not Bentler. She pleaded guilty
to six counts of child neglect and one count of contributing to the unruliness of a minor today in Washington County Sessions Court.
In return for those guilty pleas, Bentler received no additional jail time
. Instead she was sentenced to two years supervised probation and was ordered to pay $175 in fines.
However, her sentence comes with a catch. As part of her plea agreement, Bentler must cooperate with prosecutors and testify against the people she once considered family
. Bentler briefly lived next door to the children and prosecutors say she knew about the deplorable living conditions, but never called police.
“Her involvement in the neglect was minimal,” Assistant District Attorney Dennis Brooks said. “Basically, she didn’t report the situation that she was aware of.”
Today, Bentler said that is her biggest regret.
According to Brooks, the kids remain in state custody and are now living in foster care outside of the Tri-Cities region. For the first time in their life, they are attending school, Brooks said.
“They’ve got them in the school system, but they’re so far behind that it’s going to be a process to catch them up,” he added.
The children’s parents, Mary Tittle and Robert Simons, and grandmother Roberta Sauls, still face child neglect charges
in connection to the crime.
As for Bentler, after serving seven months in jail, she says she now plans to move to middle Tennessee to be with her eight year-old daughter. After her arrest, the Department of Children’s Services took custody of that child. According to Bentler, the state is now allowing her to again care for her daughter. Still, she must return to Washington County to testify in this case.
“I just want all of this to be over because I want my daughter and I to get back on our track,” Bentler said. “I’m sorry that all this came down.”