Keisha McReynolds, 37, now faces an amended charge of distribution of a controlled substance, said Cape Girardeau County Prosecuting Attorney Morley Swingle. The new charge is a lesser felony, carrying a maximum prison sentence of 15 years rather than the 30-year term that could have come with a conviction under the state's so-called drug-free school zone laws.
Swingle's office researched the matter, Swingle said, after a Southeast Missourian reporter pointed out that day cares are not included in the list that define a school included in state's drug statues. Some states do include day cares in their definition of school under similar laws, but Missouri is not one of them.
The law here says that a person commits the offense of distribution of a controlled near a school if any controlled substances are delivered, manufactured or sold within 2,000 feet of a public or private elementary or secondary school, a vocational school, a public or private community college, a college or university or on any school bus. Clippard Elementary School is farther than 2,000 feet from McReynolds's Beautiful Beginnings day care at 2625 Hopper Road.
Swingle said his office amended the charge as quickly as possible.
"My office has never intentionally overcharged anyone," Swingle said. "So as soon as we confirmed that the statutes don't mention a day care, we amended it."
Judge Michael Bullerdieck responded to the news on Wednesday by reducing McReynolds' $100,000 cash-only bond to $25,000, leaving her lawyer, Malcolm Montgomery optimistic his client would be out of jail by Thursday. Regardless of whether she makes bond or not, McReynolds will be in court again for an arraignment set for Nov. 7.
Montgomery declined to discuss what the amended charge means, except that each carries a different maximum sentence.
Missouri law makes drug activity near a school a Class A felony to create a "buffer zone" around these areas. Prosecutors in Missouri have to prove not only that the drug dealer intended to sell drugs, but also that he intended to be in the buffer zone in the first place.
That no longer matters in this case, Montgomery said.
"That issue is moot at this point," he said. "The fact is, under Missouri law, it's not a school."
A misdemeanor charge against McReynolds for writing a bad check also was dismissed when the merchants who accepted a number of bad checks were reimbursed, said assistant prosecuting attorney Angel Woodruff.
McReynolds has been in custody since Oct. 1, days after the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services closed the day care upon learning of the drug allegations. The Southeast Missouri Drug Task Force relayed that an investigation revealed that McReynolds allegedly sold hydrocodone pills for $60 to a Missouri State Highway Patrol confidential informant.
Court records claim the informant bought the pills from McReynolds in the day care during business hours and while eight children were present -- including one that was in proximity during the buy. The drug transaction was recorded, according to court documents.
Swingle on Wednesday said the lesser charge does not mean his office takes the charge less seriously.
"It doesn't change the facts of the case," Swingle said. "As prosecutors, we always want the sentence to be based on the facts."
At the time of McReynolds' arrest, the day care already was in danger of being closed by the state for several violations.
2625 Hopper Road, Cape Girardeau, MO
100 Court St., Jackson, MO