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ABSENT MOM GIVEN 5 YEARS IN PRISON

Christina Rowells was sentenced to five years in prison on child neglect charges Tuesday, and she might not know it yet.

Rowells, along with her husband, Lavon, earlier pleaded guilty to two counts each of child neglect after prosecutors say they left their two sick toddlers roaming a motel hallway while they left to play a video game.

Christina Rowells, 26, was not at Tuesday's hearing after failing to appear at two earlier sentencing hearings.

"She knew she was supposed to be here, she had notice," said Assistant State Attorney Daniel Amparo. "She was not here."

A warrant was issued for her arrest in July, but authorities have not arrested her.

Prosecutors say the couple left their sick 2- and 3-year-old children alone for at least four hours at the Rodeway Inn on Fowler Avenue in May 2008.

Amparo said Lavon Rowells, 24, dropped his wife off at a strip club to work, then got bored at the motel and went back to visit her while their children slept unattended.

After Christina Rowells got off work, they went to Kentucky Fried Chicken and then to a friend's house to play the video game Grand Theft Auto, Amparo said. The couple has since filed for divorce. Their children, including an infant born after the incident, have been taken in by relatives.

During Tuesday's brief hearing, Amparo recommended a sentence of two years in prison and five years probation afterward, the same sentence Lavon Rowells received last month.

Speaking to a nearly empty courtroom, Hillsborough Circuit Judge Wayne Timmerman gave little explanation as he delivered the five-year sentence.

Assistant Public Defender Maura Doherty, Christina Rowells' attorney, objected to the ruling. Doherty argued that her client had attention-deficit disorder and was "working diligently" on her case plan from the state Department of Children and Families.

"She does not have a history of any violent or reckless behavior," Doherty said. "This was clearly a mistake."

Timmerman asked Amparo if he had anything to say about the objection. He didn't. Timmerman quietly overruled the objection and let his ruling stand.

Lee Logan can be reached at (813) 226-3436 or llogan@sptimes.com.

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