LARGO — Although prosecutors once pleaded with a judge to keep her locked up, the 11-year-old Clearwater girl accused of setting her mother on fire has been sentenced to probation.
That's a big contrast compared to early stages of the case, when the Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney's Office said "she's a danger to herself, and she's a danger to the community," and seriously considered whether to try to indict the girl in the adult court system for attempted murder.
It's also a contrast to her 15-year-old accomplice, who was sentenced to a juvenile program that could keep him locked up for two years.
The girl, with her blond hair tied back, wearing black slacks and a green top, pleaded guilty on Monday to juvenile charges of attempted murder, arson and grand theft. It all stemmed from a December night in which she and Jack Ault, her boyfriend, were accused of dousing her mother's bed with gasoline and setting it ablaze. Nancy Broadhead, then 47, suffered serious burns and smoke inhalation.
On Monday, Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Jack Day sentenced her to "indefinite probation," and to comply with doctors' recommendations that she stay in a mental health facility for as long as needed. The sentence prohibits her from contacting her accomplice, Ault, and says she can only talk to her mother/victim under the terms of a separate child welfare court case. Also, a formal finding of guilt was withheld.
"You can make the rest of your life look a whole lot better than everything up to your 12th birthday," Day said to the girl at the hearing Monday. "Maybe that's going to be a real turning point for you."
The girl, who is not named in this story because of her age, turns 12 on Friday.
Although the girl will be sent to a treatment facility for mental health issues, her sentence does not call for her to be incarcerated within the juvenile justice system.
Her sentence was a result of a plea agreement, and was based on recommendations from the state's Department of Juvenile Justice, and doctors who evaluated her in recent weeks.
Joseph Walker, head of the juvenile division for the Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney's Office, said his office agreed to the arrangement because of those recommendations, and also because of the girl's age and lack of prior record, as well as "abuse issues."
The girl's attorney, Roger Futerman, called the arrangement a "best-interest plea," meaning the girl pleaded guilty because it was in her best interest to do so.
The sentence was appropriate because she had been raised in an abusive household led by her mother, the same woman who was burned in the fire, Futerman said.
At the moment, the girl is living with her aunt Linda Broadhead in Lakeland, and Futerman said he hopes that arrangement eventually can become permanent.
Neither Broadhead nor her attorney could be reached later for comment.
But in a January interview with the St. Petersburg Times, Nancy Broadhead said issues such as alcohol and abuse were behind her. She also described her daughter as "a wonderful little person."
Curtis Krueger can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8232.