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Mother rails against sentences in child’s death

April McAlister, at left, talks to prosecutors after the sentencing hearing Tuesday morning. Behind them, Quantabia Hopkins’ toddler son, Carson, sits with relatives. McAlister was angry at what she considers a light sentence for Hopkins and her mother, Marlo Fallings, in the death of McAlister’s toddler, Jazmin Green, who was left inside a daycare center van and died. (Staff Photo: Kathy Jefcoats)

April McAlister, at left, talks to prosecutors after the sentencing hearing Tuesday morning. Behind them, Quantabia Hopkins’ toddler son, Carson, sits with relatives. McAlister was angry at what she considers a light sentence for Hopkins and her mother, Marlo Fallings, in the death of McAlister’s toddler, Jazmin Green, who was left inside a daycare center van and died. (Staff Photo: Kathy Jefcoats)

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From left, Marlo Fallings, her daughter, Quantabia Hopkins, and Hopkins’ attorney, Rudjard Hayes, during Tuesday morning’s sentencing hearing. The women were convicted last month in the death of Jazmin Green, 2, who was left inside a daycare center van after a field trip in 2011. (Staff Photo: Kathy Jefcoats)

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From left, defense attorney Andre Johnson, Marlo Fallings, Quantabia Hopkins and defense attorney Rudjard Hayes react after learning the women will serve a brief stay in jail followed by community service and probation in the death of Jazmin Green, 2. The women were held responsible for leaving the child inside a daycare center van after a June 2011 field trip. (Staff Photo: Kathy Jefcoats)

JONESBORO — The mother of a toddler who died after she was left strapped inside a daycare van said Tuesday the system failed her daughter.

“I ain’t happy at all,” said April McAlister upon leaving Clayton County Courthouse. “They have got away with murder for killing my damn child. They both should have gotten more time. The system failed, yes, the system failed.”

Marlo Fallings, 44, and her daughter, Quantabia Hopkins, 26, were convicted last month in the June 2011 death of McAlister’s daughter, Jazmin Green, 2. Fallings owned the now defunct Marlo’s Magnificent Early Learning Center in Jonesboro and Hopkins worked for her. Green and her older brother were watched at the center since birth while McAlister worked.

Fallings will serve 90 days in jail with the balance on probation.

“This is symbolic,” said Judge Matthew Simmons. “It is three months, one month for every hour Jazmin sat in that van.”

During her probation, Fallings will perform 100 hours of community service and is required to be available to lecture other daycare center owners about the risks involved in not following regulations, he said.

Hopkins, who was allowed to be sentenced under the First Offender Act, will spend 10 years on probation, preceded by 30 days in jail. Simmons ordered her to perform 300 hours of community service and also be available for lectures.

“That’s 100 hours for every hour Jazmin was left in that van,” he said.

Her attorney, Bruce Harvey argued for weekend stays rather than 30 days at once.

“She is the sole provider of her son,” said Harvey. “We’d ask that the 30 days be done on weekends so someone will be there to take care of her child.”

Prosecutor Deah Warren objected.

“This case was tried over a month ago and part of the delay in sentencing allowed for the individuals to make arrangements for their lives,” she said. “We just object.”

Harvey countered with the suggestion of a delay in surrendering and Simmons agreed. The women are to report to the jail Sunday, June 1, by 6 p.m., he said.

The fact that the Memorial Day holiday falls before that deadline was not lost on McAlister.

“They get to go home and celebrate and barbecue and they killed my baby,” she said on the courthouse steps. “She (Hopkins) still has her child. She can kiss him. I can’t.”

Although Hopkins is a stay-at-home mom living with Fallings and her husband, Harvey said Fallings is working three jobs, including as a nanny.

“I’m scared for whoever’s child she’s watching,” said McAlister. “She might get a 16-year-old to watch her again.”

Hopkins and her then-16-year-old cousin were in charge of taking eight kids, including Green, to Chuck E. Cheese in Fayetteville. When the van returned, the two got seven kids out, leaving Green behind, strapped inside a car seat.

It was more than three hours later before she was discovered missing and 911 was called.

Fallings and Hopkins were charged with murder and faced life in prison but a jury convicted them of lesser charges last month.

Fallings, who wasn’t on the property when the van returned, was convicted of misdemeanor reckless conduct. She faced a maximum of 12 months in jail and a minimum probated sentence.

Hopkins was found guilty on the more serious charges of involuntary manslaughter, reckless conduct and felony contributing to the deprivation of a minor. Now a single mother to a 2-year-old son, Hopkins could have gotten 10 years in prison.

Warren had asked Simmons to impose the maximum for both women.

Before pronouncing sentence, Simmons showed compassion for all three women.

“They’re not bad people,” he said, recalling what McAlister had said about the women in giving her victims impact statement. “This was an accident that could have been prevented. She (McAlister) showed a lot of wisdom in saying that.

“You can’t erase or negate what happened,” Simmons continued. “I wish I could do something to fix this. I know the people involved will live that day over and over and will continue to do so.”

He blasted Fallings for not taking more responsibility for what happened, despite her not being on the property that day.

“She was in charge,” said Simmons. “She was put on notice before of problems with field trip and keeping a log and had to go through training again before this happened. She put her daughter and niece in a bad situation that day.”

Her niece was convicted of charges in the case in Clayton County Juvenile Court. Chief Judge Steve Teske ordered her to serve community service but also to create a memorial to Green. The resulting quilt hangs in the lobby of the Youth Development Center in Jonesboro, alongside a photo of the child and a narrative about the incident.