Dead Columbia boy's mother pleads guilty to misdemeanor

A Columbia woman pleaded guilty Thursday to a misdemeanor in connection with a report of an injury her 2-year-old son suffered five months before he was killed by suffocation.

Joaquinia M. LaJeuness, 29 — whose son, Elijah, died in April 2011 at age 3 — answered questions but made no statements during a hearing before Howard County Circuit Judge Richard Bernhardt, said T. Wayne Kirwan, a spokesman for the county state's attorney.

Bernhardt handed down a prison sentence of three years suspended and the eight days LaJeuness has already served in jail. She was also ordered on probation for two years and will have to comply with safety requirements issued by the Howard County Department of Social Services for her daughter, who is now in foster care, said her lawyer, Louis P. Willeman of the Maryland Office of the Public Defender.

LaJeuness pleaded guilty to causing her son to be "a child in need of assistance," as the indictment reads. Prosecutors dropped three other counts in the indictment, including child abuse and assault.

"It's all a sad situation, but we had a case we had to figure out how to resolve," Willeman said in an interview.

LaJeuness was indicted in January, more than a year after the county Department of Social Services received a report Nov. 3, 2010, from the KinderCare day care center in Columbia that Elijah had shown up with a bump on his forehead and bruises on his left ear, according to a statement from the state's attorney.

The Department of Social Services and the police conducted a joint investigation. After the indictment, LaJeuness was arrested in Michigan and returned to Howard County.

No one has been charged in Elijah LaJeuness' death, which the state medical examiner ruled a homicide by asphyxiation, said Sherry Llewellyn, a county police spokeswoman. Police were called to the house April 13, 2011, and found the boy unresponsive. He was taken to Howard County General Hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

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