Father convicted of manslaughter in daughter's hot car death

A 32-year-old Baltimore father was convicted by a jury Tuesday of involuntary manslaughter for leaving his daughter in a hot car for 16 hours after a drinking binge last year.

Circuit Judge Jeannie Hong revoked bail for Wilbert Carter and ordered him held pending sentencing, where he could face a prison sentence of more than 10 years. Carter's defense attorney, Margaret Mead, begged her to reconsider.

"It's the holidays!" a visibly upset Mead said to Hong. "He has two other children!"

"There is a child that's dead," Hong responded.

Jurors deliberated for less than a day. They acquitted Carter of more serious charges, including second-degree depraved-heart murder and first-degree child abuse resulting in severe physical injury with death, which carried potential sentences of 30 years and 40 years, respectively. He also was convicted of reckless endangerment and confining an unattended child.

Prosecutors said Carter had been celebrating Father's Day and drinking with a relative on June 21, 2015, when he returned home to Northeast Baltimore. He parked the car and left his 21/2 -year old daughter, Leasia, in her car seat.

He woke up passed out on the front porch of a female friend who lived nearby, then returned home and slept until 4 p.m. before the girl's body was discovered. Temperatures reached 89 degrees that day.

Carter has accepted responsibility "from day one," Mead said, and was willing to plead guilty to involuntary manslaughter. The case went to trial when the state would not give up the first-degree child-abuse charge, Mead said.

"I take responsibility for what happened to my daughter," Carter said during his testimony Monday.

He said he never previously drank gin, but he and his brother-in-law split a fifth of Tanqueray.

"It was a horrible mistake, and that's all I can say," he said.

Assistant State's Attorney Anne Colt Leitess, chief of the state's attorney's office's Special Victims Unit, said Carter had left Leasia in the car knowingly while seeking out a late-night rendezvous with the female friend. The fact that he ended up passing out from alcohol did not mitigate his culpability, she said.

"You thought you were going to get lucky, and that's how you ended up on her porch," Leitess said.

"No," Carter replied.

Five of Carter's relatives, including two women with whom he has other children, testified Monday that Carter was a doting father and not a heavy drinker. His oldest daughter is 15, and another is 11.

"I've been doing this for 15 years, and I've never been in this type of situation," he said.

Carter testified that he hasn't had a drink since Leasia's death.

"Anything that can take my mind off of something so precious, I don't need it in my life," he testified.

After the verdict, Leitess asked that Hong revoke Carter's $250,000 bail, noting he had been arrested in October on a drug charge in Harford County. Mead said she was confident Carter would be cleared because he had a prescription for the drugs that were found.

But Hong, noting prior convictions that dated to 2004 and 2001, said the charge was enough to convince her to send Carter directly to jail.

Mead protested. "I believe in justice, and fairness," she pleaded. "He was not convicted of what she [Leitess] wanted him convicted of."

State's Attorney Marilyn J. Mosby said the case is a reminder to parents. "Nothing can erase the fact that this innocent child's death was a direct result of her father's recklessness. However, as we currently experience frigid temperatures, I hope that today's conviction will remind parents and guardians of the dangers of leaving unattended children in vehicles in extreme weather conditions."

Outside the courtroom, Mead remained upset.

"He's a broken man," she said of Carter. "How do you ever get over that? To keep him [incarcerated] at this time of year from his other children … you talk about rubbing salt in the wound."

jfenton@baltsun.com

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