Mom gets 5 years for infant's death in hot car

Lisa Morris needs to be a lesson to others, Judge Michael N. Annis said Tuesday.

The extraordinary neglectful act of leaving a child in a vehicle can result not only in the horror of losing a child but in a prison sentence as well, Judge Annis said in sentencing Ms. Morris to five years in prison followed by five years' probation.

On Aug. 7, 2008, Ms. Morris and a cousin returned to her Patrick Avenue home after taking 6-week-old Dalton Morris to a doctor's appointment and running errands. Ms. Morris thought her cousin brought Dalton inside, but the infant sat in the vehicle as the temperature inside reached an estimated 119 to 126 degrees, said Assistant District Attorney Johnny Markwalter.

Ms. Morris was indicted in Richmond County Superior Court on a charge of felony murder. In a plea negotiation, the charge was reduced to involuntary manslaughter.

Ms. Morris, 26, begged the judge not to send her to prison for the sake of her 5-year-old daughter. The weeks that she spent in jail before bond was granted nearly crushed the little girl, Ms. Morris said. If she was separated again, she feared the girl's spirit would be broken, she told the judge.

Assistant Public Defender Brian Grantham asked the judge for probation. Sending Ms. Morris to prison would only serve the purpose of punishment. There was no greater punishment than the loss of her child, he said. It was a terribly tragic accident, he said.

Judge Annis agreed there was no greater punishment than the loss of a child, but Dalton's death was avoidable, he said.

There's a need to deter others from the same negligence, he said.

Ms. Morris wailed, grief-stricken upon hearing the sentence. Her family members and friends also cried and tried to comfort her.

Mr. Grantham implored Judge Annis to reconsider. He pointed to the punishment given to Christine Long for "torturing her kids for 18 years" -- weekends in the Burke County jail. The sentence was given by a different judge, but it was in the same judicial circuit, Mr. Grantham said.

Judge Annis stuck by his sentencing. He reminded Mr. Grantham that Ms. Morris does have the right to ask for reconsideration at a later date.

Reach Sandy Hodson at (706) 823-3226 or sandy.hodson@augustachronicle.com.

A CRIME TOO COMMON

A study published in Pediatrics recently reported 29 deaths of infants left inside hot vehicles so far this year in the United States.

The study by the Department of Geosciences of San Francisco State University found that since 1998 a total of 441 children have died after being left in vehicles.