On Sunday, a mother was charged with four counts of negligent homicide after her children died in a mobile home fire in the town of Rayne, which is roughly 70 miles west of Baton Rouge. The mother, whose children ranged from 2 to 8 years of age, was reportedly away when the fire happened, though it isn’t clear where she was.
Neighbors of the 26-year-old mother said she left the children home alone. One neighbor reportedly called police on Friday night to report that the children had been left without an adult. They were released back to their mother on Saturday, the day the tragedy occurred. Sources said several neighbors attempted to break inside the home to rescue the children but were unable to do so.
The fire was determined to have started in the living room, but a number of details about the incident are still under investigation. So far, investigators are making much of the fact that the mother often left her children unattended, but the real question is whether she is guilty of criminal negligence. In Louisiana, one can only be charged with negligent homicide if the act that caused the homicide was a violation of law.
Sources don’t provide many details about what may have taken place in this case. It is possible that the mother was not with her children at the time of the fire for reasons entirely beyond her control. It is important to remember that criminal charges are only that: charges. They are not a declaration of guilt, and defendants have the right to a fair trial. This is something we all know intellectually, but tragic stories like this have a way of urging us toward judgment.
Those accused of homicide need to take steps to build a solid defense. Prosecutors, it is important to note, are typically not interested in leniency, but rather in obtaining a conviction.
Source: Washington Post, “Police: 4 unattended children die in La. Home fire, mother charged with negligent homicide,” April 22, 2012.