GREENFIELD — On the morning she was to appear before a jury, a Greenfield babysitter admitted to neglecting an infant left in her care — but not to battering the child or causing the injuries that left the baby briefly hospitalized.
Terri VanAlst, 25, 830 N. School St., pleaded guilty to felony neglect Tuesday morning in Hancock Circuit Court, part of a last-minute plea deal with prosecutors that also dropped the battery charge she faced.
VanAlst was arrested in November 2015 after police accused her of striking a 5-month-old left in her care so hard, a blood vessel in the baby’s eye ruptured, and bruises were left across her face, according to court documents.
Police and doctors from Riley Hospital for Children in Indianapolis believed the little girl was slapped by an adult because the redness and bruising appeared to in the shape of an adult hand, according to court documents.
VanAlst denies injuring the child, Deputy Prosecutor Marie Castetter said, but to ensure VanAlst would plead guilty to neglect, prosecutors agreed to drop the battery charge knowing it would have no impact on the sentence the woman receives.
Each of the counts VanAlst faced was a Level 5 felony carrying a maximum sentence of six years in prison. Had VanAlst been found guilty of both battery and neglect at trial and sentenced the max for both counts, her sentences would have been carried out at the same time, Castetter said; VanAlst would have spend no more than six years behind bars regardless of the jury’s verdict.
Settling the case before it went to trial ensured justice for the victim while also holding VanAlst accountable, Castetter said.
The alleged incident occurred on Nov. 11, 2015. VanAlst told police she was looking after three children, including the child who was injured, and stepped outside to smoke a cigarette, court documents state.
She told police that from outside, she heard a scream and ran back into the house to find the baby, red-faced and crying, court records state. She told police she immediately took the child to Hancock Regional Hospital.
The medical staff at Hancock Regional sent the baby to Riley, where doctors found two long bruises on the left side of her face and a burst blood vessel in her left eye, according to court documents.
Riley doctors told police they were certain the injury had been caused by an adult hand, court documents state.
Police say VanAlst’s story about what happened to the little girl changed several times during their investigation and was different from the one she reportedly told the baby’s parents immediately after the child was hurt, court documents state.
The child’s parents told investigators VanAlst called and told them to say another child dropped the baby; but VanAlst told police the baby might have hit her head on a coffee table or been injured when another child sat on her, according to court documents.
When police told VanAlst the baby’s injuries were consistent with being slapped by an adult, she denied having touched the child, saying she “cares deeply for (the child), and she would not hurt her,” court records state.
VanAlst is expected back in Hancock Circuit Court next month, where Judge Richard Culver will rule on the terms of her sentence, officials said.