Saturday, July 08, 2000

Mom cleared of felony in death of infant son


Hamilton woman guilty of misdemeanors in boy's suffocation

By David Eck
Enquirer Contributor

        HAMILTON — A Hamilton woman on Friday was cleared of a felony involuntary manslaughter charge in the 1999 death of her 5-month-old son.

        But Butler County Common Pleas Judge Matthew Crehan found Lori Johnson guilty of two misdemeanor charges of endangering children involving the infant and a second child, now 3.

        Ms. Johnson, 22, faces up to six months in prison and a $1,000 fine on each charge, said Drew Engel, her lawyer.

        She remains free on bond and will be sentenced Aug. 15. Judge Crehan ordered a pre-sentence investigation and said officials must check her home weekly.

        During the three-day trial, for which Ms. Johnson had waived a jury, a forensic pathologist said Ms. Johnson's infant, George Bowling III, suffocated on a plastic bag.

        “The court finds that this tragedy was an accident the defendant could not foresee happening,” Judge Crehan said, in acquitting Ms. Johnson of involuntary manslaughter.

        He said there was no evidence that anyone could have anticipated that the baby would move from the couch on which he was sleeping to the plastic bag.

        Several Hamilton police officers and a fire department paramedic testified Ms. Johnson told them that she had placed the baby on a couch before going to sleep June 12, 1999, but awoke to find the baby off the couch and partially under or wrapped in the bag.

        Witnesses also said the Ross Avenue home where the baby died was messy and cluttered. They said the rooms were full of uneaten and dried food, soiled diapers, cigarette lighters and electric cords.

        Assistant Butler County Prosecutor Pat Moeller argued that the environment — including plastic bags laying around — led to the death. Mr. Moeller had no comment on the judge's decision.

        Mr. Engel, who acknowledged the house was a mess, said he didn't believe there was enough evidence to support the involun tary manslaughter charge.

        “We were never really expecting there would be a guilty verdict on that,” he said.

        He said Ms. Johnson has a limited education, had a poor upbringing and was not properly taught how to be a good parent.

        Ms. Johnson's other two children, Kimberly Bowling, 5, and Casey Bowling, 3, are living with other relatives who have legal custody, Mr. Engel said.

        Ms. Johnson would not comment.

        “I don't know how it is that she slipped through the cracks,” Mr. Engel said. “I know that this entire mess should never have occurred, and I think she knows it. She has to live with what happened and the shame of it for the rest of her life.”

       



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