Convictions upheld in daycare toddler death

By Rachel DePompa - bio | email

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - The case against a Richmond day care worker convicted in the death of toddler could be headed for the State Supreme Court.

The Virginia Court of Appeals upheld today, Keishawn Whitfield's convictions of involuntary manslaughter and child neglect for leaving a child locked in a van. Whitfield left the child in a van for 13 hours, but has maintained it was a tragic accident.  The Court of Appeals disagreed and actually published an opinion to set a precedent for future cases.

The Medical Examiner says 13-month-old Andrew Johnson died of heat exposure, probably within an hour of his 13 hours locked helplessly in a Yellow Brick Road Daycare van.

Keishawn Whitfield avoided jail and served six months home confinement. He's apologized in and out of the courtroom, but also filed an appeal. "It was a mistake. I can't take that back. If I could, I would," said Whitfield shortly after his conviction last January.

On Tuesday, judges with the VA Court of Appeals re-affirmed his convictions. In the opinion they wrote, Whitfield, "displayed an inexcusable pattern of reckless indifference" when he left Johnson in that daycare van.

"What the court said is it wasn't just a simple act of I forgot, I was distracted. The court said no, it was a series of things that you did or failed to do during the day," said NBC12 legal analyst Steven Benjamin.

He said the decision should put other day care providers, babysitters, even parents on notice. "A simple mistake, if it exposes a child to danger, death or injury is felony child abuse, if the child dies, it's manslaughter."

Whitfield's attorney will most likely appeal this decision to the State Supreme Court. He has 30 days to file that appeal.

The convictions for Whitfield also prompted a judge to reinstate a cocaine possession charge that had been deferred. The appeals court also upheld Whitfield's conviction on that charge.

View the Virginia Court of Appeals documents on Whitfield's decision.

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