Prosecutors announced on Friday that while a baby girl succumbed to the heat of an enclosed car on July 24, her foster father was inside smoking marijuana. The 10-month-old, of Wichita, Kansas, died. The new details came to light during a bond hearing for the accused, Seth M. Jackson. The 29-year-old faces charges of first-degree murder in the death of his foster daughter.
District Attorney of Sedgwick County, Marc Bennett, used Jackson’s marijuana use as a reason for the court to increase the amount of his bond to $250,000. Jackson’s defense attorneys asked the judge to lower the amount of his bond from $100,000, the original amount set. Judge Dave Dahl modified a bond of $250,000, meaning that in order to be released pending trial, Jackson will have to pay a lesser amount of money to the bondsman, but should he not return for trial after being released, he will have to pay the entire $250,000.
During court, Bennett alleged that Jackson had been smoking marijuana that day and ran out. He was returning from his drug dealer’s house after having purchased more marijuana when he stopped to pick up the baby from a sitter. A 5-year-old child was also in the vehicle, and jumped out when the car parked at the home. When Jackson went inside to smoke the marijuana, he left the baby in the car with the windows up. Ambient temperatures while the girl was left in the car were approximately 90 degrees. Police believe that the girl remained in the car, outside of the home and forgotten by Jackson, until over two hours later when he saw something on TV which jarred his memory.
Defense attorney John Stang believes that murder is too harsh of a charge in this case, saying that involuntary manslaughter would have been more appropriate. Prosecutors contend that because the baby died while her foster father was engaged in the act of aggravated endangerment of a child, a felony, the murder charge is warranted. Both sides agree that leaving the girl in the car was an accident on the part of Jackson.
The secretary of the Kansas Department for Children and Families, Phyllis Gilmore, released a statement to express the department’s horror at the circumstances surrounding the death of a child they had sworn to protect. She called the events a “rare exception” to the department’s record of safety in their foster care program, adding that “drug use is not tolerated among our foster parents.” According to her statement, the last time a foster child’s maltreatment led to death was in 2006.
The DCF is continuing to investigate the death of the girl. Because it occurred in a home which was sponsored by subcontractor TFI, all of TFI’s homes will be inspected for safety. In the meantime, there will be no foster placements in those homes, but if the investigation reveals no “serious concerns,” TFI homes will again be allowed to place foster children. Gilmore said that 621 Kansas foster homes are sponsored by TFI.
Judge Dahl is also tasked with deciding whether or not the probable cause affidavit in the case would be released. Although neither side voiced objections to the release of the document, he has until Aug. 7 to make his decision. If released, the affidavit will provide more information as to why murder charges are justified in this case. Jackson is expected to be released from jail on bond on Friday night.
By Jennifer Pfalz