COURTS

Mother Who Left 5 Kids In Squalor Pleads Guilty

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By Ruben Castaneda
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, August 24, 2007

A mother who left her five young children alone in squalid and dangerous conditions in a basement apartment in New Carrollton pleaded guilty yesterday to seven misdemeanor crimes and was ordered to serve 20 days in jail.

Amara N. Eden, 31, pleaded guilty under an agreement with prosecutors in Prince George's County on the morning her case was to go to trial. She was sentenced to five years in jail, with all but the 20 days suspended, and five years on probation.

Circuit Court Judge Sean D. Wallace noted that Eden was in a difficult spot as a single parent but said that, if not for a concerned neighbor who called police, her actions might have led to the deaths of the children. The probationary term he imposed was longer than the three years prosecutors recommended.

"If it were up to me, I'd sentence you to probation until these children were 18," said Wallace, adding that state law prevented him from imposing a lengthier term than he did.

With the assent of Assistant State's Attorney Renee Battle-Brooks, Wallace said Eden would be allowed to serve her sentence on weekends. Eden is scheduled to report to the Prince George's County Detention Center today at 6 p.m.

Eden addressed the court briefly before the sentence was imposed. "I just want to say I love my children," she said in a barely audible voice. "I want to tell everyone I love my children."

Eden, a Nigerian immigrant, said she is a permanent legal resident and is applying for citizenship. It was not immediately clear how the guilty plea might affect her application.

In March, police acting on the neighbor's tip entered Eden's unlocked apartment. Battle-Brooks said that, had the case gone to trial, the state would have presented evidence that the children were living in squalor. "When you walked into the apartment, your feet sunk into the urine and feces there," Battle-Brooks said.

The children -- four boys and a girl, then ages 6 months to 6 years -- were huddled on a mattress without a blanket, there was a pan of burning food on the stove, and a space heater was operating near a pile of clothes, she said.

Eden had been charged with five counts of reckless endangerment and five counts of leaving a child under 10 unattended, all misdemeanors. Under the agreement, she pleaded guilty to two counts of reckless endangerment and five counts of leaving a child unattended.

Wallace ordered that she attend parenting classes and follow the directions of caseworkers with the county Department of Social Services. She is also not allowed to have a pet. When police found her children, they found a 1-year-old dog chained in the living room without food, water or a way out of the apartment to relieve itself.

Eden will later be permitted to petition to have her convictions reduced to probation before judgment, as state law permits. Battle-Brooks said prosecutors would not oppose such an application.

The children are living together in a foster home. Eden is allowed unsupervised visits with them, prosecutors and Eden's defense attorneys said.

At a news conference after the guilty plea, State's Attorney Glenn F. Ivey said he and social services officials are hopeful that Eden and her children will be reunited. "Hopefully the convictions will be a strong wake-up call for the mother to get her life on track," Ivey said.

Jason W. Shoemaker, one of Eden's attorneys, told reporters that Eden works as a nurse in a hospice in the District.


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