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A Westminster woman, guilty of six counts of child neglect, was back in court Thursday to argue that she was not criminally responsible for her actions.

Melissa Arlene Trapani, 46, took an Alford plea to six counts of child neglect in January. An Alford plea is a plea a defendant can take when they say they are not guilty but agree that if the state were to take the case to a trial, they would be found guilty.

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Judge Thomas Stansfield found Trapani guilty of the six counts, and the state abandoned the remaining 31 charges, including child and animal abuse charges. He ordered a criminal responsibility evaluation in January.

On Thursday, Trapani's attorney, William Welch III, argued that she was not criminally responsible for the neglect of her six children between Oct. 11, 2011 and Nov. 7, 2014. The state, represented by Senior Assistant State's Attorney Amy Ocampo and Senior Assistant State's Attorney Ashley Pamer, argued she was responsible.

Under Maryland law, the defense has the burden in the case, meaning Welch has to prove that the preponderance of evidence shows that Trapani is not criminally responsible. Stansfield will decide if Welch showed that Trapani could not fully understand the criminality of her actions or could not conform her actions to that of the conduct required by law due to "a mental disorder or mental retardation," according to Maryland code.

Paul Trapani, 56, and Melissa Trapani, 46, were each charged with more than 30 counts related to child and animal abuse, according to electronic court records. During a hearing Thursday, both Paul and Melissa Trapani elected to take an alford plea to six counts each of neglect of a minor, public defender Judson Larrimore told Judge Thomas Stansfield.

Welch called Dr. Neil Blumberg, a forensic psychiatrist to testify that after evaluating Trapani, he found that she was not criminally responsible due to a diagnosis of severe, recurring Major Depressive Disorder and alcohol abuse disorder.

Blumberg testified that Trapani let her house fall into disarray because of her depression and that she used alcohol as a way to self-medicate. Trapani was drinking 20 beers a day by 2014, and at one point, increased her intake to 30 beers a day, Blumberg testified.

Due to her depression, Trapani would make attempts to clean the house and the children, but she had difficulty completing the tasks because of her lack of energy. But through her questions, Ocampo argued that Trapani did have energy, including enough to take the kids to the bus in the morning, rescue 11 dogs and come up with the idea to build a door with bars on top to prevent two of her children from getting out of their room.

"She was able to create the environment where they were confined, but she wasn't able to get them out of it?" Ocampo questioned.

In arguing for a motion of judgment of finding Trapani criminally responsible, Ocampo told Stansfield that there wasn't enough evidence to show that Trapani was not criminally responsible the entire time that the neglect took place, pointing to Blumberg's testimony that Trapani's Major Depressive Disorder was episodic and her symptoms fluctuated.

Coming up with the idea to keep the youngest kids caged showed that Trapani had the mental capacity to do what she needed to do to help her children, Ocampo said.

Stansfield denied Ocampo's motion, saying the defense had shown enough evidence to continue the hearing. The state called Trepani's psychiatrist who diagnosed her with bipolar after her kids had been removed from the home.

He had initially evaluated Trapani and determined she was not criminally responsible, but after reviewing the reports in the criminal case and an independent evaluation by Dr. Tyler Hightower, with the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, he reversed his opinion.

Pamer was in the middle of her direct questioning of Hightower when Stansfield recessed the hearing for the day. The hearing will resume Friday at 10 a.m. with Hightower on the stand.

410-857-7898

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