An El Paso woman was recently convicted of criminally negligent homicide for the 2013 death of her infant daughter who was left in a hot car for 8 hours. Jurors issued the guilty verdict despite hearing testimony from a psychiatrist expert witness who explained that the defendant suffered from “forgotten baby syndrome” which was presented as a condition that causes parents to leave their kids in cars unintentionally.
Texas Woman Charged with Death of Infant Left in Car
In May 2013 Wakesha Ives returned to her car after a long day teaching at an El Paso middle school to find that her 5-month-old daughter Janay Aliah Ives had spent the entire day locked inside the hot car. Despite frantic efforts by school staff and paramedics to revive the baby at the scene, Janay was taken to a local medical center and pronounced dead with an internal temperature of 105 degrees. Janay died of environmental heat exposure suffered due to being confined in her mother’s vehicle for an entire day, and Wakesha was subsequently arrested and charged with criminally negligent homicide for leaving her infant in her car while she was at work.
Throughout the investigation and trial Wakesha maintained that she mistakenly believed that she had dropped Janay off at day care prior to arriving at the school for work. During her trial, a tearful Wakesha took the stand to tell jurors that she was devastated by her daughter’s death, and loved Janay as any mother would. Wakesha explained that she was suffering from memory lapses due to her blood pressure medicine and on the day in question forgot that she had not dropped Janay off at day care like she typically did.
Wakesha’s attorneys told jurors that the defendant was experiencing significant levels of stress at her job and was suffering from chest pains, light-headedness, and memory loss because of high blood pressure medication that she was taking at the time. In an effort to further demonstrate that Ives was not criminally culpable for her daughter’s death, the defense presented testimony from a psychology expert witness who explained that Wakesha showed signs of Forgotten Baby Syndrome which could have explained her inattentiveness to Janay.
Expert Witness Explains Forgotten Baby Syndrome
Attorneys for Wakesha Ives called to the stand Dr. David Diamond, an expert witness specializing in neuroscience and memory at the University of Florida, who discussed a condition he called Forgotten Baby Syndrome. Dr. Diamond told jurors that, “Forgotten Baby Syndrome is when normal, attentive, loving parents forget their kids in the car,” and can be distinguished from cases of neglect or abuse when parents are known to be slow, sluggish, or suffering from memory loss in the time prior to the incident.
Dr. Diamond’s expert testimony explained that because our memories are frail and prone to easy lapses, simple factors like a break in normal routine or a series of unusual events could lead a parent to overlook the fact that their child was left behind in a hot car. According to Ives’s husband, she had not slept well the night before, and that he had placed the baby bag in back seat that morning rather than its usual spot in the front of the car. Dr. Diamond explained that this seemingly innocent break in routine could trigger Forgotten Baby Syndrome, suggesting that Ives forgot about her daughter and was not acting negligently or maliciously by leaving Janay in the car.
Jury Convicts Texas Mother for Death of Infant Daughter Left in Hot Car
Despite emotional testimony from Wakesha Ives and analytical expert witness testimony about Forgotten Baby Syndrome by Dr. Diamond, the jury of 10 women and 4 men found the defendant guilty of criminally negligent homicide for Janay’s death. The jury acquitted Ives of the more serious charge recklessness causing serious bodily harm due to omission – which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years – suggesting that jurors put some degree of stock into the defendant’s case and her expert witness’s contributions.
Ives will return to court in early October for a sentencing hearing, and faces up to two years in jail for her conviction. Dr. Diamond’s expert witness testimony on Forgotten Baby Syndrome may not have been fully successful, but it seems that jurors incorporated his position into their decision by selecting the lesser available charge. Forgotten Baby Syndrome is relatively unheralded in the legal community, but with the attention it has received in the Ives case more defendants may look for experts like Dr. Diamond who provide explanation why parents would leave infants unattended in hot cars.