A Charlottesville mother faces up to 20 years in prison after pleading guilty to involuntary manslaughter and felony child neglect.
Nydia Love Lee, 26, was arrested in August and initially was charged with second-degree murder in the death of her 20-month-old son.
In Charlottesville Circuit Court on Monday, she pleaded guilty to the amended charges of involuntary manslaughter and felony child neglect.
Lee, dressed in a red trustee jumpsuit from the Albemarle-Charlottesville Regional Jail, sat quietly throughout the hearing, occasionally taking hesitant glances at her weeping family in the gallery.
After Judge Richard E. Moore accepted Lee’s guilty plea, Deputy Commonwealth’s Attorney Areshini Pather outlined the evidence that would have been presented had the case gone to trial.
According to Pather, the Charlottesville Police Department responded to a 911 call from Lee’s home on Jan. 10. Pather said Lee’s baby was found unresponsive and, after failed attempts to resuscitate him, he was transported to the University of Virginia Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead.
“Lee told officers that she put the child down for a nap and found him unresponsive when checking on him a few hours later,” Pather said. “In several subsequent interviews, her story remained consistent and she denied injuring the child.”
The day after his death, the child’s body was autopsied by the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner in Richmond, which determined the child was undersized for his age — around eight months behind where he should have been developmentally — and showed signs of neglect.
Additionally, Pather said the medical examiner found injuries to various parts of the child’s body, including bruising around his groin; healed rib fractures; a fracture to his right arm; and a hematoma on his brain consistent with blunt-force trauma.
“The bruising and injuries should not have been present on a child of this size and with this limited mobility,” Pather said. “The injuries are indicated to be ‘non-accidental,’ which is a technical term used by the medical examiner.”
When examining Lee’s phone, Pather said investigators found several videos from the week of his death that had been sent to various family members that showed the baby in distress, crying and grinding his teeth.
“The universal response from the recipients was to take the child to the hospital, but Lee declined to do so,” Pather said.
One of the recipients of the videos, the child’s father, asked Lee if someone had hurt his son, which Lee denied.
Pather said the evidence indicated the injury suspected to have caused the child’s death — blunt-force trauma to his head — could not have been self-inflicted or inflicted by one of the child’s older siblings. Lee never implicated anyone else had been around the child the day of his death, Pather said.
“[Lee’s] timeline does not make any sense with the medical evidence,” she said. “There had to be a significant intervening force to cause the injuries that led to the child’s death.”
Because Lee had accepted her role in the death of her son, Pather said the commonwealth found it appropriate to amend the second-degree murder charge to involuntary manslaughter. Involuntary manslaughter and the neglect charge are felonies that each carry a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison.
Lee is scheduled to be sentenced March 31.