Source: Lake Geneva Regional News

Officials dismayed over sentencing in drowning deaths

by Rob Ireland

August 02, 2012

Dismayed by the probation sentence handed down in a case where a negligent mother slept in another room while her infant twins drowned in a bathtub, numerous Republican legislators — including State Sen. Neal Kedzie and State Rep. Tyler August — have sent a letter to the secretaries of the state departments of Corrections and Children and Families asking for a review of “why the system failed these innocent children.”

The letter, which is dated Aug. 2, was written in response to the sentence handed down by Walworth County Circuit Court Judge David Reddy to Melody Butt, 27, of East Troy.

Butt was sentenced to 14 years of probation, which includes one year of condition jail with work-release privileges. Reddy also imposed, but stayed, a 15-year prison sentence, which includes five years of initial confinement.

The imposed and stayed sentence means that if Butt violates the conditions of her probation —which includes no unsupervised contact with children, including her own, without her probation agent’s consent — she will head right to prison.

The letter was also signed by State Sen. Mary Lazich, New Berlin, and representatives David Craig, Big Bend; Stephen Nass, Whitewater; Evan Wynn, Whitewater; and Amy Loundenbeck, Clinton.

The letter in its entirety states:

“We are writing you today to express our grave concern and anguish over a matter which we believe calls for further scrutiny and review by both agencies you lead.

“As you may know, a horrific tragedy occurred last year in East Troy, Wisconsin (Walworth County) where two innocent young children died as a result of the gross negligence and irresponsible actions of their mother. As many of us are parents, we were deeply troubled by the lack of care for these precious lives and heartbroken after learning more of this case and the conditions in which these children were raised. Like many others, we hoped swift and appropriate punishment would come to this parent who exhibited such wanton neglect for her children. Sadly – and only adding more pain to this tragedy – that has not occurred.

“Earlier this week, a sentence was handed down by Walworth County Circuit Court Judge David Reddy which we believe falls well short of a suitable response to such a heinous act. Since that time, we have been gathering information to ensure we had the most pertinent facts of the case. The mother pled guilty to the felony child neglect charges and could have been sentenced to a lengthy term in prison, along with significant fines. In addition, her rights to her other young children could have been revoked entirely. Unfortunately, that did not occur. Instead, the mother will only serve one year in a work release program, retain her rights to visit the surviving children, and serve fourteen years on probation. This decision has sent a shock not only to us, but the rest of the communities we represent, and perhaps throughout the state.

“In our position as state elected officials, we are calling on your respective offices to utilize your available and allowable jurisdiction and resources to review this matter and hopefully provide us information as to how and why the system failed these innocent children. Furthermore, we are inquiring as to what, if any, action or involvement your departments may have in the care and welfare of the surviving children who will find themselves in the care of the very person who neglected their siblings. Obviously, we are immensely concerned for their safety and trust you and your agencies share that concern.

“We would also inquire of any legislative remedy your agencies may suggest regarding such situations.

“We understand anything we do will neither bring those children back, nor alleviate the pain so many have endured. But we have a responsibility to seek answers to these tragedies and determine how we, as a state, can improve the manner in which such cases are handled, and how we can better protect our children.”

About the case:

On Sept. 22, Melody Butt placed one of her infant children in a bathtub with her 2-year-old child. She then took her other infant into the bedroom where she fell asleep.

While Butt slept, both twins drowned in the tub. It is unknown how the 11-year-month old went from the bedroom to the bathroom.

“I pay the price every day because of the decisions I have made,” Butt said during her sentencing hearing.

Inside of Butt’s apartment police found dirty diaper’s and bottles with curdled milk on the floor.

“You wouldn’t want dogs or cats in that situation,” District Attorney Phillip Koss said.

Koss, who the next day became a Walworth County Circuit Court Judge, advocated a prison sentence in the case.

However, the presentence invesitation report, which is generated by the Department of Corrections, recommended probation.