LARGO — The case of a 13-day-old baby girl who was beaten to death by her 6-year-old brother in a locked minivan last August concluded Monday morning when their mother was sentenced to five years' probation.
In a brief hearing in Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Michael Andrews' courtroom, Kathleen Steele pleaded guilty to a felony charge of leaving a child unattended in a vehicle causing injury.
She faced up to five years in prison, but sentencing guidelines for Steele, who has no criminal record, called for probation.
"We agreed to a sentence that was within the guidelines," said Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney Bernie McCabe. "She pleaded guilty and that's it."
Steele, 62, declined to comment after the hearing. Her attorney, Denis deVlaming, said the plea will allow Steele to focus on her family case plan with her two sons, now ages 7 and 4.
Since her arrest, the boys were placed in separate foster homes, deVlaming said. Steele's separation from the boys has been "traumatic" for the family, he added.
"She's still grieving," he said. "Nobody understands what this has caused her."
Steele, originally from Chicago, moved to Florida in 1972. In 2009, she was featured on the reality show I'm Pregnant and … 55 Years Old. Steele said on the show that she had delayed having a family while working long hours.
She and her husband had their first child in 2009. After becoming a widow in 2011, Steele had two more children using his frozen sperm.
On Aug. 8 about 1:50 p.m., Steele was running errands with her newborn daughter and two sons, then ages 6 and 3. She walked into a cellphone repair shop in St. Petersburg.
For 28 minutes, she left her children in the minivan with the doors locked, engine off and windows up.
The baby, Kathleen Bridget, began to cry and her oldest brother picked her up from the car seat. He smashed the girl's head against the minivan's ceiling, dropped her to the floor and clobbered her, the Pinellas Sheriff's Office said.
Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said last year the girl had fractures in her skull like "cracks in the sidewalk."
After making two other stops, Steele said she did not notice her daughter's injuries until they reached their rental home in North Redington Beach.
The Sheriff's Office arrested Steele on a charge of aggravated manslaughter of a child, a first-degree felony punishable by up to 30 years in prison. Last month, prosecutors filed a lesser charge, leaving a child unattended in a vehicle causing injury.
Steele will continue to see her children in supervised visits during her probation.
Her youngest, deVlaming said, still doesn't understand why he can't come home.
Contact Laura C. Morel at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @lauracmorel.