Judge explains reasoning for sentencing in drownings

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Stan Milam
Wednesday, August 15, 2012

— When Melody Butt was spared prison after pleading guilty to child neglect resulting in the drowning death of her twin 11-month-old children, area lawmakers wanted to know why.

Led by state Sen. Neal Kedzie, R-Whitewater, legislators wanted the Department of Corrections to explain why it recommended probation instead of prison and what the Legislature could do to ensure prison time for similar incidents in the future.

Butt admitted to falling asleep in a bedroom adjoining the bathroom in her East Troy apartment. She said she had worked second shift and wanted to give her twins, a boy and a girl, a bath.

She said she put the twins in the bathtub, turned on the water and intended to rest on the bed where she could see the twins. She fell asleep, and the twins drowned.

"I received a letter from the Department of Corrections late last week that gave little information on the case because it involved minors," Kedzie said.

"The letter did go into some detail regarding the process, but we are still left wondering what we can do legislatively."

The legislators were told the Department of Corrections makes recommendations based on various criteria, but it's ultimately a decision made by the judge, Kedzie said.

David Reddy, the judge who sentenced Butt, offered a detailed account of the factors he used in staying a prison sentence and allowing Butt to serve a year in county jail with work and child care privileges.

Butt has three remaining children.

Reddy went through these steps at the July 31 sentencing hearing and indicated whether the circumstances favored incarceration or probation:

1. Past record of criminal offenses. Probation.

2. The history of undesirable behavior pattern. Incarceration.

3. The defendant's personality, character and social traits. Probation.

4. Aggravated or vicious nature of the crime. Incarceration.

5. The degree of defendant's culpability. Incarceration.

6. The defendant's demeanor at trial. Neutral.

7. The defendant's age, education and employment record. Probation.

8. The defendant's remorse. Probation.

9. The need for close rehabilitative control. Probation.

10. The rights of the public. Incarceration.

11. Length of pre-trial incarceration. Neutral.

12. Aggravating or mitigating factors. Probation.

After listing the factors, Reddy summarized his reasons for probation.

"The court intends to adopt the recommendation of the Department of Corrections," Reddy said.

"The reports of the child protective experts indicate she's doing extremely well, and they do not support removing her from her children's lives. The conclusion seems clear that confinement is not necessary to protect others from Melody."

Reddy then announced the sentence.

Last updated: 5:09 pm Tuesday, August 27, 2013

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