Indiana, PA - Indiana County

Charges refiled in tub death

by CHAUNCEY ROSS on May 23, 2013 11:00 AM

HOMER CITY — Prosecutors have reinstated a criminal homicide charge against a former White Township woman, whose 13-month-old child drowned after being left in a bathtub with no adult supervision in their home this past winter.

The action comes just more than a week after the homicide charge was dismissed at a district court hearing. District Attorney Patrick Dougherty said he wants a judge to reconsider the factors and definitions supporting the homicide count.

Tonya Thomas, 26, now of Clarksburg, was charged Wednesday with the same counts that state police lodged against her in February, soon after the death of her son Ryden Wesley Thomas: one count each of criminal homicide, aggravated assault and recklessly endangering another person, and three counts of endangering the welfare of a child.

According to an affidavit filed by Trooper Josiah Murdock and by his testimony at the hearing on May 13, Thomas told investigators that she commonly left Ryden in the bathtub with her two other children, Nevaeh, 3, and Aiden, 2, while she took care of other tasks in the house.

On Feb. 2, Thomas told police, she bathed the children, advised her husband to “keep an ear out” for the kids while he played a video game in an adjacent bedroom, then went downstairs to put laundry in a clothes dryer.

Tonya Thomas told police that no more than five minutes later, she had a feeling something was wrong and returned to the bathroom to find Ryden face down in the water and unresponsive.

Efforts to revive him failed and Ryden was pronounced dead a short time later at Indiana Regional Medical Center.

Dougherty said at a news conference Feb. 19 that the circumstances warranted a general charge of homicide and that he intended to seek a conviction for third-degree murder. Recklessness and disregard, but not malice or intent, are factors in a third-degree count.

“I think this time we need to be more clear about what we are seeking,” Dougherty said this morning.

“I left the court last Monday feeling that (Judge Steffee) thought we needed to prove an intentional act. We never alleged that this was an intentional killing. But that does not mean that she would not be responsible for a reckless killing.

“Our position has been the same the whole time, that it was reckless to leave a 13-month-old in the tub not only by himself, but you couple in that he was left with two older siblings, and the older was just 3 years of age.

“I felt this case was important enough … to ask Magistrate Steffee to take another look at it,” he said.

Under rules of prosecution, Dougherty said, the new charge doesn’t violate Thomas’ protection against double jeopardy. The original charge did not end in an acquittal by a jury or a judge at a trial.

But the entire case goes to “ground zero,” Dougherty said.

Formally, Dougherty will halt prosecution of all the original charges, and “start with a clean slate,” beginning with a preliminary hearing of evidence and testimony from investigators.

Steffee scheduled a hearing for 1:15 p.m. Wednesday. Tonya Thomas remains free on unsecured bond of $250,000.

The case against her husband is unchanged.

Wesley Thomas, who was charged in February with three counts each of child welfare endangerment and reckless endangerment, waived his right to a preliminary hearing May 13 and opted to face trial in Indiana County Court.

Wesley Thomas, 25, was held at the county jail after his arrest but was released last week on unsecured bond of $50,000 to await court action on the case. No hearing dates have been scheduled.

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