TAMPA — At first, to deputies, it looked like a suicide pact — a desperate mother and 12-year-old daughter pushed to the edge by an abusive man.
Five months later, prosecutors have come to a different conclusion. Last week they dropped the domestic violence charges against James Clark and instead charged the girl's mother, Nancy Lowe, with attempted murder.
On May 25, Lowe and her 12-year-old daughter left suicide notes and set their garage on fire. Neighbors noticed smoke pouring from the Citrus Park home and pulled the pair to safety.
At the hospital, they told investigators the girl's father and Lowe's ex-husband, 45-year-old Clark broke into their home and beat Lowe the previous night. She had bruises. Deputies immediately arrested Clark on charges of aggravated battery and burglary with assault, which is punishable by life in prison.
Prosecutors dropped those charges last week. And two days later, on Thursday, they filed charges against Lowe. She faces one count each of arson, child neglect and attempted murder.
"I said, from the initial bond hearing, this isn't a suicide pact," said Clark's attorney, Anthony Rickman. "You can't agree to have your mother kill you. This is attempted murder of a child."
It all started one week in May, during a custody dispute.
Clark had received a couple weeks of time with his daughter, but Lowe picked up the girl from school, against court orders. Clark filed a missing person report.
The next day deputies were called to what appeared to be a double suicide attempt. Both Lowe and her daughter pointed the finger at Clark.
Rickman said the child later recanted her story. The attorney also provided evidence he had gathered to the state and Sheriff's Office.
On Oct. 22, prosecutors filed a "letter of release" stating simply that after investigating, reviewing the facts and applying state law, they won't be filing charges.
Rickman said his client is relieved the charges were dropped — but he's still sad.
"He's a victim, but he's an adult," his attorney said. "The child is the real victim."
She is still in foster care, as the state works on custody issues, Rickman said.
Lowe remained in jail Monday, without bail.
Jessica Vander Velde can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3433.