It has been nearly two years since 21-month-old Frances Kelly died in her family's van on a hot day. Her father, Kevin C. Kelly, was convicted last year of involuntary manslaughter and child endangerment in the death of his 13th child.
The jury ultimately recommended that Kelly, a civil engineer from Manassas who prosecutors said had a history of child neglect, spend a year in jail. Instead, Judge Rossie D. Alston Jr. handed down a more creative sentence that lasts seven years: that once a year Kelly spend a day in jail; that he do volunteer work each week; and that he sponsor an annual blood drive in Frances's name.
Since he was sentenced for the May 29, 2002, death of his daughter, Kelly said he has been grateful for the relatively light punishment, even though he is appealing the conviction to the Virginia Supreme Court because "what happened was an accident."
In the meantime, Kelly, 47, must continue serving the sentence. This weekend, he will sponsor the second annual Frances Kelly blood drive at All Saints Catholic Church, at Stonewall Road and Route 28 in Manassas.
"Everybody at the church we've dealt with has been supportive, even people that can't give blood. This is a great tribute," Kelly said. "I still believe I am innocent to this day, but at the same time, there was a possibility I could go to jail and that would be just disaster for my family."
Kelly's children range in age from Marie, 21, a college senior, to Claire, 5, who will be a kindergartner in the fall. Most of his children attend Holy Family Academy or Seton School. His wife, Mary, 46, is a homemaker, Kelly said.
Kelly said organizing the blood drive has been a rewarding part of his punishment because of his admiration for the Red Cross. The blood drive is required to collect at least 100 pints, and Kelly said a large turnout at last year's event convinced him he could double that amount. Blood donors need to be at least 17 and weigh 110 pounds.
Instead of being held in a small meeting room inside the church as it was last year, this year's drive will be inside the church's gymnasium, he said.
"I am just trying to emphasize my commitment to the Red Cross . . . I am not trying to send any messages to the community," Kelly said.
His punishment also requires him to spend some time at the Prince William County Adult Detention Center, not just as an inmate one day a year but as a volunteer once a week.
Kelly spent his first day in jail three months ago, calling it a "difficult day." Kelly, who had two other cellmates, said it "was helpful having other people . . . just to have someone to talk to."
Kelly also volunteers at the detention center as part of a "life learning program," teaching inmates about how "the choices they make create consequences and the decisions they make determine their destiny."
With a felony conviction on his record, he said, life has been difficult because he cannot obtain security clearances that he needs for his job at a Maryland-based construction company, which has government clients. He also cannot vote.
A three-member panel of the Virginia Court of Appeals upheld his conviction in February, saying Kelly "utterly ignored" Frances. Kelly said he has petitioned the state Supreme Court to hear his appeal.
"We still feel [prosecutors] did not prove their case and the verdict was wrong. There was no evidence, and they never proved that I willfully did anything," he said.
The case triggered an emotional debate in the community about how Kelly -- who could have received a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison -- should be punished. Jurors acknowledged that he had not intended to hurt Frances but that he should be held accountable to some degree for her death.
Sandra Sylvester, the assistant commonwealth's attorney who prosecuted the case, said she doubts Kelly will win an appeal, given the "stinging" decision by the Court of Appeals.
"It's his right to appeal, but we're happy to see the court uphold what we did," Sylvester said, adding that it is useful for the community that the annual blood drive reminds people of the tragedy.
"We tend as a community to move on, and we need to make sure this won't happen again. Children are still considered second-class citizens," she said. "This isn't about [Kelly's] suffering. It's about [Frances's]."