TAMPA — A young mother convicted of neglect after her baby died in a bathtub will not go to prison.
Katrina Lynn Brooks, 23, must serve five years probation, live in a halfway house for at least six months, undergo routine drug tests and get counseling, said Hillsborough Circuit Judge William Fuente.
Prosecutors said she left her 9-month-old son in a bathtub with his 2-year-old sister on Aug. 3, 2007, and lost track of time as she talked with her aunt. Investigators said they talked about where to buy marijuana, but a jury didn't hear that part because a judge deemed it irrelevant.
After 15 to 40 minutes, Brooks returned to find the tub overflowing in her Seffner mobile home and the boy inside it, lifeless.
A jury found her not guilty of aggravated manslaughter in May 2008, but guilty of neglect, a lesser charge. She faced a maximum of five years in prison, but Fuente noted she had no prior felony convictions and was under 21 when charged. He withheld adjudication, which defense attorneys said would help her get a job.
Before the judge made his decision, Brooks' attorney said that after her conviction, Brooks took classes to be a better mother to her only living child. But Brooks' mother died, and the event threw her into a tailspin. She lost parental rights to her daughter, who is now in another family's care.
Brooks cried as she addressed the judge: "I never intended for anything to happen to my son. If I had some sort of support from my family, maybe my son would be home today, but he's not. And I have to live with that every day …
"My son is dead," she told him. "I lost my child, and I have lost my other one, and it is the worst pain anyone can feel."
No family members were at her sentencing, which was delayed by legal reversals.
After the 2008 verdict, Judge Fuente found that evidence against Brooks was insufficient to warrant a felony conviction. He granted a motion for acquittal.
But a year later, in September 2009, the 2nd District Court of Appeal found enough evidence for neglect and ruled that the judge erred in reversing the conviction.
On Friday, a prosecutor asked the judge to sentence Brooks to more than 19 months in prison because of the injuries caused by her neglect.
Brooks' defense attorney told the judge to think of her as a "child raising children," a jobless high school dropout with no more than an eighth grade education raising two kids alone and doing the best she could with what she had — a woman who cried so hard over her son that she hyperventilated and fainted.
A woman who was sorry.
After she learned Friday that she was spared prison, Brooks didn't smile. She showed no signs of celebration. She just left the courtroom in silence.
Alexandra Zayas can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 226-3354.