CHICAGO (NewsNation Now) — Melissa Henderson, who is a single mother of five, is facing a year in prison and a $1,000 fine after she left her children under the care of her oldest child, 14, while she went to work amid the pandemic.
Some people are calling her decision “reckless” while others are defending the mother’s actions.
Henderson said despite facing prison time, she will not accept a plea deal.
“I’m just gonna take each day as it comes because you can’t let things weigh on you like that,” she told NewsNation’s Ashleigh Banfield. “But you know, I just don’t feel that was right. So I’m not going to take the plea. I don’t feel that I did anything wrong.”
Henderson’s attorney, David DeLugas, told NewsNation’s Joe Donlon on Wednesday that his client’s case should be dismissed due to Georgia’s own child protection guidelines, which states children 13 years and older can take on the responsibility of babysitting.
“The mother did nothing wrong. In fact, the distinguishing point here is that the mother made a reasonable decision to leave her children in the care of the 14-year-old daughter,” DeLugas said.
Henderson, from Blairsville, Georgia, was left with very few options for child care when her children’s nursery was shut down in May 2020 due to the pandemic. In order to go to work, she decided to leave her daughter Linley in charge of her other siblings.
Linley was participating in remote learning when her 4-year-old brother Thaddeus slipped out of the house and went to his friend’s house down the street. About 10 to 15 minutes later, Linley noticed that her brother was gone, but quickly found him at the friend’s house.
The mother of the friend called the police to report the incident and Henderson was arrested two weeks later. She has been charged with criminal reckless conduct.
DeLugas said the charges against his client are unconstitutional.
“In 1997, the Georgia Supreme Court said that this statute is unconstitutional because it is vague. And more importantly, sheriffs and other law enforcement have too much discretion to decide what’s reckless and what’s not,” DeLugas said.
In the case, DeLugas said, a mom left her 11-year-old babysitting her younger sibling, who died in a tragic accident.
“So even then, the Supreme Court of Georgia said tragic, though it may be, it’s still not a crime for a mom to entrust a teenager with the care of a younger child. So … the statute was declared unconstitutional, and the charges were removed from that mom back in ’97. So that’s what makes this thing so pleasantly puzzling now.”
DeLugas has filed a motion to dismiss the case. He said he remains optimistic that the judge will take it into consideration. If not, DeLugas said he plans to appeal.
“I am going to appeal his decision not to grant it to the Georgia Supreme Court and let them wrestle with, ‘What’s the difference in the facts here versus the facts in 1997?’”
The case, which has been ongoing for two years, is weighing heavily on the family, according to DeLugas.
“It’s hanging over this family and it wears on the mom and even more … Linley, because she knows she’s responsible for what happened. Although again, nothing should have happened to her mom.”
To pay for Henderson’s legal expenses, a GoFundMe has been set up for her. The account so far has raised over $35,000.