Katherine Elizabeth Papke, 35, of Anniston, was arrested by Anniston police Aug. 9 after she found her 4-month-old son, Bennett Owen Smith, unresponsive inside her car in a parking lot on the 400 block of Goode Road at McClellan. The infant was taken to Regional Medical Center and pronounced dead at the hospital.
Calhoun County Coroner Pat Brown said the cause of the child’s death was hyperthermia, otherwise known as heat stroke.
Papke was originally charged with two felonies after her arrest, including manslaughter and leaving a child unattended in a motor vehicle. The second charge was dropped by District Judge Chris McIntyre after prosecutors agreed the law creating that offense did not apply in her case.
Papke’s lawyer James Sturdivant said today that he views what happened as a tragic accident, and is disappointed in the decision made by the grand jury. He said similar accidents happen all over the country during the summertime.
“It happened this summer in Homewood, Ala., where that mother was not charged,” Sturdivant said.
Katie Luong, 31, of Homewood, also left her infant child, 11-month-old Gabriella Gi-Ny, inside of a vehicle when she went to work on July 17, according to accounts from The Birmingham News. Luong found the child unresponsive inside her vehicle that afternoon, according to The News, and the infant was rushed to a hospital, where she was pronounced dead.
Sturdivant said Luong was not charged with manslaughter in her daughter’s death. A search of state court records today showed no charges against anyone named Katie Luong.
Papke, who was an active-duty Army soldier assigned to an Alabama National Guard unit at McClellan, went to work Aug. 9 thinking she’d dropped her child off off at daycare, and didn’t realize her mistake until lunchtime, her attorney has said
Jennifer Weems, the Calhoun County prosecutor listed in the case file, told The Star today that she is prohibited from discussing future cases.
Sturdivant said Papke is still grieving over the loss of her child, and that he will wait until Papke's Dec. 19 arraignment to make further arguments against the charge.
The indictment, signed by Circuit Judge Debra Jones in October, set Papke’s bond at $50,000 and prohibits her from having unsupervised visits with her two daughters, who were 7 and 8 years old at the time of their brother’s death. Papke remained free on bond today.
Staff writer Madasyn Czebiniak: 256-235-3546. On Twitter @MCzebiniak_Star.