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Janesville woman sentenced in child neglect case

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Mike DuPre'
September 10, 2008
— No one spoke for Israel Gordon.

When the first of two defendants in cases resulting from the 14-month-old’s death was sentenced Tuesday, no one spoke for the primary victim.


April Peabody, 27, Janesville, was sentenced to 18 months probation with required parenting classes and drug and alcohol assessment and counseling as part of a plea agreement that reduced a felony child neglect charge to misdemeanor child neglect.


Anne Nack, assistant district attorney, told Judge Michael Fitzpatrick that the other victims in the case, presumably including Gordon’s biological and foster mothers, had been notified of the sentencing hearing for Peabody.


But no one testified in court Tuesday about the loss of Gordon.


Peabody, 27, Janesville, lived with Gordon’s father--Charles Rivers, 35—in an apartment on Linn Street in Janesville in December 2007 when Gordon died in what Rivers described as a bathtub accident.


Rivers told police the boy slipped and hit his head as Rivers was bathing him in the morning.


The toddler suffered obvious and severe brain trauma, according to a medical opinion cited in the criminal complaints against Peabody and Rivers.


But instead of immediately seeking medical attention, Rivers, who was caring for the boy when the incident occurred, went about his daily business, including a run to Beloit to get a fix for his heroin habit, the criminal complaint charges.


Peabody, who was at work when Gordon was hurt, told investigators she later went shopping with a friend and then accompanied Rivers on his trip to Beloit, according to the criminal complaint.


Rivers was the one who primarily tended to the baby that afternoon and evening, Peabody told investigators.


Both Peabody and Rivers were charged with felony child neglect resulting in death and misdemeanor obstructing charges.


But District Attorney David O’Leary amended the felony charge against Peabody to a misdemeanor in exchange for her guilty pleas to it and the obstructing charge and her testimony against Rivers.


Rivers’ case still is pending, although O’Leary said last week he and the defense have reached a plea agreement that calls for Rivers to plead guilty to felony child neglect with a joint prosecution-defense recommendation for a year in jail and five years probation.


Fitzpatrick noted that Peabody, who has no prior criminal record, was being sentenced on misdemeanors and had agreed to testify in a felony case against Rivers.


While Peabody apparently presents no threat to the community, her testimony could protect the public from Rivers, the judge said.


The classes and counseling she must take are available outside of incarceration, Fitzpatrick noted, and jailing her would prevent her from seeing and working toward reuniting with her two children—one fathered by Rivers.


The children are under the supervision of Child Protective Services. Peabody has limited visitation, her attorney, Rob Howard, told the court.


Whether probation lessened the crime’s severity is a “closer call,” Fitzpatrick said.


“This is a serious crime,” the judge said.


But Fitzpatrick said he could tell by Peabody’s demeanor in court—she cried quietly and dabbed at tears—that she took the matter seriously.


If she does not comply with the terms of her probation, she would be back in his court facing “very serious consequences,” the judge said.


Peabody made no statement, deferring to her attorney’s comments.


Peabody was not home when Gordon was hurt, and Rivers was the one who cared for and checked on the baby throughout the day, Howard told the judge.


While she does not use drugs, Peabody enabled Rivers’ habit, Howard said, and she initially lied to police because she was ashamed at what happened.


Peabody “does feel horrible” about Gordon’s death, Howard said. He apologized for her to Gordon’s biological and foster mothers.


“She’s a 27-year-old and made a mistake that will haunt her for the rest of her life,” Howard said.


Peabody will forever be subject to the public’s criticism and condemnation, her attorney said, adding:


“To say there are no consequences for my client, that this is a slap on the wrist, is not correct,” Howard said. “She’s earning the right to be a mother again.”



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