GREENFIELD — A judge is mulling whether a local mother whose toddler was found wandering alone in a New Palestine subdivision over the summer is guilty of neglect — or simply made a parenting mistake.
Angel Pennington, 21, 5186 W. Blue Bell Drive, appeared before the judge for a bench trial Monday morning. She faces a single count of neglect of a dependent as a Level 6 felony.
After hearing nearly two hours of testimony, Hancock Superior Court 1 Judge Terry Snow took the case under advisement.
Snow heard testimony from six Hancock County sheriff’s deputies and Pennington, who was napping when her daughter slipped out her New Palestine home. Prosecutors argued Pennington put her 23-month-old daughter’s health and well-being at risk when she failed to properly secure her home to ensure the child could not get outside.
Pennington’s defense attorney, Holly Lyons of Greenfield, chalked the incident up to a parenting mistake. She told the judge Pennington regrets what happened that day and has taken steps to ensure it doesn’t happen again. Primarily, the defendant no longer sleeps while her children are napping — as she was on the day her daughter wandered into the front yard alone.
“You can’t anticipate everything your child does,” Lyons said. “Not all parenting mistakes amount to neglect, and not all neglect is criminal.”
Deputy Prosecutor John Keiffner told the judge there is no way to know what dangers the girl might have faced if a neighbor hadn’t spotted her, picked her up and called 911.
Neighbors found Pennington’s daughter alone in the Gem Meadows subdivision, located near the intersection of county roads 500W and 100S, last August.
Richard Fulmer testified that a faint crying noise drew his attention to a little girl alone in his neighbor’s front yard. He didn’t recognize the child but was concerned that she’d be hurt by two pitbulls that were chained nearby.
Fulmer told the judge the dogs appeared to be playful with the girl but became slightly aggressive as he approached. He testified that he’d never seen the child before.
Fulmer and the police officers who arrived minutes later knocked on the front doors of the closest houses, but no one who answered was able to identify the child, he said.
Hancock County Sheriff’s Deputy Gary Stanley told the judge he and other officers who aided in the investigation knocked on the front door of the home where the child was found, which they later discovered was Pennington’s home. Officers pounded on the front door and shouted into the home through a cracked side door; Pennington eventually came to the door, almost an hour after the child was found, they said.
Deputy David Wood told the judge Pennington allowed them to search the home. Inside, they found two guns, including a loaded rifle that was left within a child’s reach, Wood testified.
Stanley said first-responders arrived on the scene with lights flashing and sirens blaring, drawing many neighbors out of their homes.
When Pennington took the stand, she told the judge she didn’t hear any sirens.
She testified she checked on her daughter a short time before she realized police were outside her home and still believed her daughter was asleep when investigators showed her an image of the child they were trying to identify. She and her children had lived in the house, which is owned by a relative of her boyfriend, for only about three weeks at the time.
Pennington told the judge she often sleeps while her children are napping but keeps her door open so that any noise they make wakes her. She’s not sure how her little girl managed to make it down the hall and outside without startling her.
If Pennington is found guilty, she faces a maximum penalty of 2½ years in jail.
Hancock County Superior Court 1 Judge Terry Snow took Angel Pennington’s neglect case under advisement Monday morning. In the coming days, he will issue a ruling on whether Pennington committed a Level 6 felony when she failed to secure her home, and her young daughter was found wandering a New Palestine neighborhood.