Karen Murphy pleads guilty, avoids prison time

The mother of a 2-year-old who died after she left him in the family van for hours pleaded guilty to two counts of misdemeanor child neglect but will not go to prison.

Karen Murphy, who pleaded guilty on Monday to two counts of misdemeanor child neglect, left the court room sobbing nearly nine months after the death of her son, Ryan.

"She's devastated by the loss of her son, she's going to have to deal with that, and she is dealing with that," Edward MacMahon, Murphy's attorney, said.

There was no disagreement between prosecutors and Murphy's defense that this case centered around a tragic accident and not an intentional act.

Murphy, a veterinarian, was sentenced to two years in jail but received a suspended sentence. She was also sentenced to six-years probation and 400 hours of community service, to be served at an animal shelter.

The plea and punishment are a far cry from the initial charges of felony murder in a case where Murphy admits it was the second time she had forgotten Ryan in the car. According to Weather Underground, the high temperature in the area reached 84 degrees that day. She originally faced up to 40 years in prison on murder charges.

On June 17, Ryan was found unresponsive in the family's van in their Bristow driveway. According to court documents, he was left strapped in his car seat while his mother was at work inside an animal hospital.

Prosecutors say the other incident in which the boy was left inside the car occurred in January of 2011.

"The neglect was egregious, not once but twice," Commonwealth's Attorney Paul Ebert said. "She has punished herself more than the law can ever do."

However, the decision that let Murphy avoid jail time did not sit well with some Prince William County residents.

"Your child died because you left him in a car," Manassas resident Kris King said.

However, Dumfries resident Ellen Leon agreed with Ebert's sentiment.

"She'll have it on her conscience for the rest of her life," Leon said. "That's enough punishment."

Ebert said that a big factor in the reduced sentence was based on two things: Murphy's willingness to plead guilty and the fact that if she was convicted of a felony, she would have lost her veterinary license.

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