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Mother gets probation, not prison, in baby's death

Aug 19, 2012 - By Christina George, Staff Writer

The Pavillion mother charged in her baby's November 2011 death will spend the next 12 months on supervised probation instead of the 26 years of prison she previously faced.

The sentence, which was rendered by Riverton Circuit Court Judge Wesley Roberts on Monday, was part of a plea agreement reached by attorneys in the case against Candace Lea Wagner.

Roberts's decision also followed Wagner's plea of no contest to a misdemeanor charge of criminally negligent homicide in connection with the Nov. 11, 2011, death of 2-month-old Clancy Lee Wagner.

In exchange for the plea, prosecutors dismissed child abuse and manslaughter charges, both of which are felonies.

Wagner was sentenced to a year at the Fremont County Detention Center, which Roberts suspended for probation.

At the start of Monday's 30-minute hearing, Roberts noted it was "somewhat unusual" that the case was concluding in Circuit Court.

Earlier this year Roberts bound over all charges against Wagner and the case advanced to District Court in Lander. Once there, Wagner pleaded not guilty, and a jury trial was set for Aug. 6.

However the plea agreement filed in June meant Wagner no longer faced felony charges, which pushed the case back to Circuit Court.

Monday's court proceedings were emotional for Wagner, noticeable by the repeated blotting of her eyes with a tissue.

"You're obviously still very distraught by an event that happened eight months ago," Roberts said to Wagner.

He urged Wagner to make changes in her life to assure such an incident did not happen again.

"We don't get to turn back time," Roberts said. "But history doesn't have to repeat itself."

Clancy was pronounced dead at 8:56 a.m. Nov. 11 at Riverton Memorial Hospital. The cause of death was ruled as asphyxia.

According to charging documents, Wagner spent the night before her baby's death consuming alcoholic beverages at a bar in Pavillion.

After collecting her baby from a sitter's later that night, she went home and put him in bed with her.

Documents state that when Wagner awoke the following morning, she found her baby unresponsive.

Wagner, who was 34 years old at the time of her son's death, was arrested Dec. 30 for the crime. She was later released on a $5,000 cash bond.

Roberts asked why a "no contest" plea was appropriate.

Public defender Dan Caldwell said former Fremont County prosecuting attorney Bob Bundy drafted the plea agreement, and Caldwell thought one of the problems for the state was that the autopsy was inconclusive. Caldwell said investigators knew Wagner had gone to sleep the previous night with her son in her bed with several blankets and pillows. However, it could not be determined if it was an overlay of blankets and pillows that caused the death.

"I know you have a lot of sorrow and guilt," Roberts said to Wagner.

He said a responsible person would understand an intoxicated person should not sleep in a bed with a baby because it "creates a substantial risk of harm."

Caldwell said he counseled his client to plead no contest because the autopsy report did not confirm the baby died from an overlay of blankets and pillows.

Roberts said that around the time of the baby's death, there were several advertisements warning people about co-sleeping with a child. Caldwell said a lot of parents sleep with their children.

"It's a problem we have in Wyoming."

Caldwell said Wagner did not know better, saying that when Clancy was born the nurse had him sleep in the hospital bed with his mother.

"One thing we know is that the child was not responsible for its sleeping environment," Roberts said.

Fremont County prosecuting attorney Ember Oakley said it shouldn't matter if it was a blanket or Wagner's arm that caused the baby's death. She said Wagner committed criminally negligent homicide because she "drank to the point of passing out" and was not in control of her own body let alone a baby's.

"There needs to be accountability," Oakley said.

Roberts told Wagner that the comments made in the hearing were not meant to harm her but to point out that "you don't put an infant in harm by being heavily intoxicated," and then sleep in the same bed with the baby.

Roberts noted arguments from both the defense and prosecution pointed out how strong each side felt about the case.

Wagner told Roberts she did not have prior convictions. He suspended $1,500 of a $2,000 fine. He also waived the $250 fee for Caldwell's services.

He ordered Wagner to undergo a substance abuse assessment and comply with treatment if required. He prohibited Wagner from being in the presence of her 9-year-old stepdaughter if intoxicated.

"You appear to be a good candidate for probation," Roberts said.

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