January Neatherlin pleaded guilty Wednesday to abandoning children at her illegal day care center while she worked out or visited a tanning salon.
The Bend woman entered her plea in Deschutes County Circuit Court to 11 counts of first-degree criminal mistreatment and one count of third-degree assault.
As part of her plea agreement, other charges were dropped. She had been facing 122 charges of first-degree criminal mischief, first-degree criminal mistreatment and recklessly endangering another person.
The Deschutes County District Attorney’s office is recommending a 35-year prison sentence. Neatherlin will be sentenced in March.
Her guilty plea comes after a daylong settlement conference Tuesday. A four-week trial in April has been canceled.
Neatherlin, 32, was arrested March 15 after police found seven children younger than 5 drugged and unattended at her Little Giggles Daycare in Bend while she was at Tanning Republic. She had given the children melatonin.
Bend Police officers discovered a 6-month-old child, a 10-month-old child, a 21-month-old child, three children 21⁄2 years old and one child who was 4, all in an upstairs bedroom. All the children appeared drowsy when officers entered the unattended house, according to court documents.
One of the infants was sleeping in a padded “toy couch” and looked fearful when an officer approached. The child had vomited on himself, and it soaked into the small couch.
In addition to leaving the children unattended to tan, Neatherlin would also leave them for workouts at High Desert CrossFit.
Seven of the criminal mistreatment charges relate to the children found in March. The other four criminal mistreatment charges are from previous incidents with children in Neatherlin’s care in 2013, 2015 and 2016. The assault charge stems from 2014, when Neatherlin was first investigated by the Oregon Office of Child Care after a citizen tip.
Neatherlin has several prior felony identity-theft convictions under the names January Livsey and January Brooks.
She has been in Deschutes County jail almost a year since her arrest in March. While in custody, she allegedly tried to convince three inmates to confess to her crimes, offering one $50,000, according to court documents.
At the hearing Wednesday, Neatherlin stood before Judge Alta Brady to plead guilty. She wore glasses, her black hair down past her shoulders and a blue jail jumpsuit with short sleeves showing tattoos on her arms. She began to sob as Brady read the charges.
Parents of the affected children sat together in the courtroom. They will all have an opportunity to speak at the sentencing hearing next month.
Neatherlin’s defense lawyer, Angela Lee-Mandlin, said Wednesday her client is not making excuses for her actions and willingly pleaded guilty, when she could have pleaded no contest or entered an Alford plea, which allows defendants to concede that the state has sufficient evidence to find them guilty while not admitting any criminal conduct.
Neatherlin could also choose to not attend the sentencing hearing in person and watch it via video link from jail, but she plans to be there and make a statement to the parents of the children she mistreated, Lee-Mandlin said.
“She is choosing to be there and face the people,” Lee-Mandlin said. “She is taking responsibility.”
— Reporter: 541-617-7820, firstname.lastname@example.org