Altoms to plead guilty to child endangerment charges Friday

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The mother and stepfather of a boy who died in 2005 from a severe infection will be in court Friday to plead guilty to three felonies.

Emily Altom and Michael Altom are scheduled to go before Circuit Judge Ronald D. White in Rolla, Mo., where they will enter pleas on child endangerment charges. Voluntary manslaughter charges alleging that the couple was medically negligent in the death of Ethan Patrick Williams are being dropped as part of a plea bargain.

Williams was 4 years old when he died Aug. 25, 2005, at Cardinal Glennon Children's Hospital in St. Louis. His death came at the end of a 25-day hospitalization during which he was treated for methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA, a virulent bacteria that invaded his leg bone, blood and lungs.

Last week, Perry County Prosecuting Attorney Thomas Hoeh and defense attorneys Allen Moss and Wayne Keller jointly filed a stipulation absolving the Altoms of criminal responsibility for Ethan's death. The stipulation said that the Altoms would plead guilty to the three child endangerment felonies and that Hoeh would recommend probation on the charges.

Ethan's grandmother, Patricia Williams of Perryville, Mo., said she was uncertain whether she or Danny W. Williams, Ethan's father, would be able to attend the court hearing.

"There is really nothing else we can do. The family has done all we can do," she said. "Mr. Hoeh said we could be there present when they are sentenced, but what good what that do?"

Hoeh said last week that he would give family members an opportunity to make victim impact statements to the court. In the stipulation, the Altoms are declared free of criminal responsibility for Ethan's death.

"The state stipulates that defendants' conduct did not result in the death of Ethan Williams and they were not responsible for the death of Ethan Williams," the paperwork filed with the Phelps County circuit clerk states. "Further, the state stipulates that said child's death was not related to the unsanitary conditions of the home as alleged" in three other felony charges against the Altoms. Patricia Wiliams said her son has not been willing to talk about the outcome of the case and that leaving the final decisions to the court may be the best course. "Our best bet is just to step back now because there is nothing else we can do," she said.

The Altoms were charged with child endangerment based on the immense filth discovered by law enforcement and child welfare workers when they visited the couple's rural Perry County mobile home. The Altoms lived in the home with Ethan, Ethan's older brother and younger half brother.

Custody of the two surviving children has been split, with the older boy living with his father, Danny Wayne Williams, and the younger child living with Emily Altom's mother.

The child endangerment charges are class C felonies, and the Altoms could each be sentenced to up to seven years on each count. Judges are not bound by recommendations included with plea bargains.


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