Judge gives Perry County couple suspended sentence in child endangerment case

Tuesday, June 2, 2009
Michael and Emily Altom stand before Circuit Judge Tracy L. Storie with their attorneys, Allen Moss, left, and Wayne Keller, at the Phelps County Courthouse Monday in Rolla, Mo. They received suspended sentences on child endangerment charges in the death of Emily's son, Ethan Patrick Williams, in 2005. (Fred Lynch)

ROLLA, Mo. -- A Perry County couple found living in filth with their family after a son was hospitalized for a severe staph infection will be on probation for the next five years.

Michael and Emily Altom received a suspended imposition of sentence on three felony counts of endangering the welfare of a child. The charges, along with a charge of manslaughter that was later dropped, were filed after the death of Ethan Patrick Williams in August 2005.

Circuit Judge Tracy L. Storie, accepting the recommendation of defense attorneys Allen Moss and Wayne Keller, told the Altoms they are now responsible for making sure they do not appear in court again. Perry County Prosecuting Attorney Thomas Hoeh did not seek a tougher sentence.

The charges carried a potential of 21 years in prison for each defendant and if probation is revoked they face the full possible sentence. If they successfully complete probation, there will be no criminal record for either Michael or Emily Altom.

"The ultimate outcome will be determined by the two of you over the next five years," Storie said.

Filthy conditions

The conditions at the Altom's rural Perry County mobile home were discovered by Missouri Children's Division workers and Perry County Sheriff's Department deputies in early August 2005 when they visited the home after Ethan Williams was hospitalized. They noted an overwhelming stench of rotting food and animal waste, along with trash piled in the home so deep that only a small path remained.

Ethan died Aug. 25, 2005, after more than three weeks of hospitalization. He had an antibiotic resistant strain of staphylococcus, resulting in a deep bone infection and pneumonia.

The manslaughter charge was dropped at the time of the Altoms' guilty plea Dec. 1. Asked again about that charge by Storie, Hoeh said he was not able to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the Altoms had neglected Ethan's medical needs in a way that resulted in his death.

"Satisfied is a difficult word to use in a case of this sort," Hoeh said after the sentencing. "It is a tragedy in every sense of the word."

While he could not prove neglect, Hoeh said, "the fact remains that this youngster lost his life. Trying to separate that from the charges for which they pled guilty, I believe Judge Storie handed down a fair sentence."

Ethan, the child of Emily Altom from a previous marriage, was living with the couple. He had two siblings, a brother and a half brother, who also lived in the home. In arguing for a suspended imposition of sentence, Moss said that while the home was in horrible condition, no evidence proves any of the children became sick or were injured by the conditions there.

Aggressive infection

The death, Moss told Storie, was due to "a very aggressive infection where even people who receive proper care can die."

The Altoms said little during the hearing, answering yes or no only when addressed by Storie.

When Hoeh asked that parenting classes be made a condition of parole, Moss said they have already been taking classes. "They have been under a microscope for four years," Moss told Storie. "They have done everything that has been asked of them."

After the sentencing, the Altoms declined requests for an interview.

The weight of Ethan's death and the charges have made their lives difficult, Moss said. They have moved to Ste. Genevieve, Mo., where Emily Altom is working in a retail store and Michael Altom is working as a bricklayer, he said.

"They are going to keep doing what they have been doing," Moss said. "They are going to put their lives back together, work at their jobs and try to create a safe and loving environment for their children."



Pertinent Address:

200 N. Main St., Rolla, Mo.

Map of pertinent addresses

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