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PRINCE WILLIAM COUNTY, Va. —
The Bristow mother charged after her 2-year-old son was found dead in the back of her minivan pleaded guilty to two misdemeanor charges Monday.
Karen Wynne Murphy, 40, was originally charged with felony murder, child abuse and child neglect for the June 17 death of her son, Ryan Murphy.
At a hearing in Prince William Circuit Court Monday, Judge William D. Hamblen accepted a plea agreement in the case that amended two of the charges to misdemeanor child neglect charges and dropped the felony murder charge.
According to the terms of the agreement, Murphy was sentenced to 12 months in jail for each charge, but all jail time was suspended. She was ordered to serve six years probation and 400 hours of community service at the Prince William County animal shelter.
At the hearing, where Murphy’s friends and family members filled two rows of the courtroom, Murphy spoke quietly and through tears as she entered her pleas.
Prince William Commonwealth’s Attorney Paul B. Ebert and defense attorney Edward B. MacMahon, Jr. said there had been negotiations surrounding the case for months and both sides agreed that Murphy did not need to serve jail time.
In court Monday, Ebert said Murphy twice forgot her young son in the family’s 2010 Honda Odyssey minivan while she was at work. The first time, in January 2011, Murphy forgot to drop Ryan off at day care and left him in the car parking lot while she went into work at Caring Hands Animal Hospital in Bristow, where she was a veterinarian.
That time, Ebert said, the boy was left in the car for a few hours, but was not injured.
According to court documents, Ryan’s day care called Murphy to ask where he was, and that’s when she realized he was still in the van.
The second time, on June 17, 2011, Murphy again forgot to take Ryan to day care, leaving him in the car while she went into work, this time leaving him there for seven hours, and then driving home to the family’s house at 12800 Gentle Shade Drive in Bristow.
It wasn’t until her husband went to pick up Ryan at day care at around 4 p.m. and discovered he wasn’t there, that Karen Murphy found him in the back of the van, still strapped into his car seat, and unresponsive, prosecutors said at the time of Murphy’s arrest.
A neighbor tried to perform CPR on Ryan, who rescue workers pronounced dead at the scene.
MacMahon said Murphy is a loving mother who made a terrible mistake.
“Dr. Murphy accepted responsibility for her actions. She didn’t need to go to prison for this,” MacMahon said. “She’s devastated by the loss of her son and she’s going to have to deal with that for the rest of her life. And she is dealing with that.”
Ebert said he thought the plea agreement was appropriate because of the facts of the case.
“To start with, I don’t think justice would be served by having her in the penitentiary,” Ebert said. “She’s punished herself more than I ever could.”
Both attorneys said Murphy plans to become involved with KidsAndCars.org, a national non-profit group aimed at spreading awareness of the dangers of leaving children in cars, and other safety issues involving children and cars.
“These cases are so horrible and so tragic,” Ebert said. “It’s not uncommon nation wide for something like this to happen.”
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