January Neatherlin, a Bend day care operator who left children unattended at her in-home day care while she tanned and worked out, is appealing her 21-year prison sentence.
Her appellate lawyer, Irene Taylor, filed a notice of appeal this summer, writing that Neatherlin objects to the imposition of consecutive sentences.
Neatherlin’s sentencing hearing in March was an emotional event, with relatives of each of her 12 victims giving statements and every speaker asking circuit Judge Wells Ashby for a tougher sentence than the 21 years he assigned.
But appellate proceedings are quite different from criminal court, according to Shaun McRea, executive director of the Oregon Criminal Defense Lawyers Association.
“I think it’s going to be much more of a technical analysis than it is an emotional response,” she said. “The judge was probably giving an emotional sentence, and now the court of appeals is going to go back and make sure that he dotted all his I’s and crossed all his T’s.”
Neatherlin’s fate could ultimately hinge on whether the appellate court decides Ashby correctly applied Oregon’s law relating to consecutive and concurrent sentences.
Oregon courts have discretion to impose consecutive prison terms for separate convictions arising out of a “continuous and uninterrupted course of conduct,” according to the statute.
The result could depend on what the judges said on the record at Neatherlin’s plea hearing in February and sentencing in March. Now-retired Judge Alta Brady presided at the plea hearing.
Neatherlin was investigated by Bend Police in 2014 after an 11-month-old child was injured at her unlicensed Little Giggles Daycare she operated in her home. The child received injuries consistent with being shaken and was hospitalized for “a significant time” as a result.
No arrest was made and the investigation was never formally closed, though the Department of Human Services directed Neatherlin to no longer provide child care in her home.
In 2017, Bend Police received a report Neatherlin was again providing day care in her home and was leaving children unsupervised. Witnesses described Neatherlin’s “atrocious” behavior, including giving the children melatonin to put them to sleep while she left the house.
Neatherlin was arrested March 15 after police witnessed her leave seven children at her home, where she ran the day care. Police found Neatherlin at a tanning salon. The children were between 6 months and 4 years old, and two were infants.
Additional investigation revealed more victims, including the child believed to have been shaken in 2014.
At one point, Neatherlin faced more than 120 criminal charges.
After Neatherlin pleaded guilty, the prosecution asked Ashby to apply consecutive sentencing to extend for 35 years, citing in its sentencing memo Neatherlin’s history of committing criminal scams and the fact she had many young and vulnerable victims. Three of the victims suffered physical injuries while in Neatherlin’s care. One was made to drink scalding milk from a bottle that had just been microwaved.
The state asked Ashby to consider there had been harm done to each victim, and it was a “course of conduct,” and not a one-time incident that injured 12 children.
“The criminal conduct engaged in by this defendant was not merely an incidental violation,” wrote the prosecution in its sentencing memo. “A single sentence, or concurrent sentences on each count, does not reflect the nature or the harm caused by the defendant.”
Neatherlin’s appellate brief is due in February, and the state’s response would likely be due by August. Oral argument, if it’s held, would likely take place that fall, according to a spokesman for the Oregon Department of Justice.
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