Keisha McReynolds was placed in handcuffs and taken into custody following the ruling handed down by Judge William Syler. From the gallery, her husband, James McReynolds, put his face in his hands as his wife was escorted from the Jackson courtroom by a bailiff.
While Keisha McReynolds appears to have run the day-to-day operations of the day care center until it closed, her husband was officially listed as the sole owner on the most recent business filings with the Secretary of State's office.
"I take full responsibility for what I did," Keisha McReynolds told the judge moments before her sentencing. " ... I have lost a position I've held for 14 years. My whole life has been affected. But I will get through this."
McReynolds pleaded guilty Dec. 3 to selling 16 hydrocodone pills from Beautiful Beginnings, the day care she operated near the intersection of Kingshighway and Hopper Road. State authorities closed the facility Sept. 24, the day she was arrested for selling the pills for $60 to a confidential informant working with the SEMO Drug Task Force.
Syler's official ruling Monday was a seven-year prison term for the felony drug-distribution charge. But the judge adhered to a plea bargain and retained jurisdiction for 120 days as McReynolds undergoes the Missouri Department of Corrections' shock incarceration program at Boonville Correctional Center.
Syler still has authority over the case during that time period and, if McReynolds successfully completes the program, he can call for her release and place her on probation. If she does not complete the program or receives unsatisfactory reports, Syler could do nothing and McReynolds would remain in prison for the duration of her term.
After the hearing, defense attorney Malcolm Montgomery said his client was disappointed. While Syler could have sentenced McReynolds to up to 15 years in prison for the class-B felony, the judge also could have gone with what Montgomery argued for -- straight probation with no prison time.
Montgomery reminded the judge during the sentencing hearing that this was his client's first drug offense and she has no criminal record, facts confirmed by the Missouri Department of Probation and Parole's sentencing assessment report. Generally, Montgomery said, such defendants aren't imprisoned for any period of time until they've repeated the offense at least once.
Much also has been made, Montgomery said, of the fact that the offense occurred at a day care, almost to the point that his client has been "vilified." Prosecutors initially filed the drug-distribution charge as being near a school, which came with a much stiffer penalty. But the complaint was amended when they realized that the so-called drug-free school zone laws don't apply to day-care centers in Missouri.
Montgomery said people should realize, however, that the actual sale took place in a separate room of the day care, apart from the children.
Despite Montgomery's arguments, Syler said he could not get past it.
"It's the location that bothers me most of all," Syler said.
Prosecutors agreed, calling it "egregious."
At Boonville, McReynolds, a mother of two, will join the 150 or so offenders from across the state who are subjected to the realities of prison life as part of the shock incarceration program, said Chris Cline, spokesman for the Missouri Department of Corrections.
For the months she is there, McReynolds will participate in programs that focus on life skills, substance abuse education and the development of a community-based home plan, Cline said. She also will be placed in general population with 1,200 other offenders, Cline said.
The sentencing Monday largely represented the end of the matter, Montgomery said in an interview later in the day. The prison sentence was not what he hoped, he said, but he suspected that McReynolds found the felony conviction on her record more disturbing.
That means her 14-year career taking care of children is over, Montgomery said.
Keisha McReynolds' name had been placed on the Family Care Safety Registry for employment purposes, as authorized by Missouri law. Now, anyone who makes an inquiry to the state for employment purposes will be told of her criminal background. Without a state license, she can provide care for no more than four unrelated children.
"That part of her life is forever gone," Montgomery said. " ... But there are consequences and those are the consequences."
2625 Hopper Road, Cape Girardeau, Mo.
100 Court St., Jackson, Mo.