A Thurston County judge sentenced Ashley Conroy, 24, to one year in custody in connection to the November 2014 death of her 18-month-old son — despite attorneys’ recommendations for a lighter sentence.
The Thurston County woman pleaded guilty to second-degree criminal mistreatment Thursday before Thurston County Superior Court Judge James Dixon. She had previously been charged with manslaughter after William Bradsnyder died in a Steamboat Island Road fire.
The case went to trial in February, but Judge Gary Tabor granted the defense’s motion for a mistrial after a series of evidentiary issues. Attorney Sunni Ko raised a question about whether her client had been properly Mirandized at one point in the investigation. She also pointed out that the grill, believed by fire investigators to have caused the fire, was never listed on the evidence log. But, the item was located when the trial began.
At the Thursday hearing, Deputy Prosecutor Craig Juris said that based on what happened during the trial, he believed that it was best to resolve the case through a plea agreement. One of the challenges in prosecuting the case, he said, was that it has been hard to stay in contact with William Bradsnyder’s father, and that the father believed that Conroy shouldn’t be punished for the child’s death.
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According to state statute, Conroy could be sentenced to between six and 12 months in custody for a second-degree criminal mistreatment conviction. Juris recommended that she serve seven months.
Ko agreed with the recommendation. She said that the trial was difficult on Conroy — especially viewing photographs of her deceased son and watching surveillance footage of the fire.
However, Dixon said the recommended seven-month sentence was too short, and he had a responsibility to send a message to people who commit crimes that result in a loss of life.
“This court respectfully disagrees with these lawyers,” Dixon said. “This court believes that the maximum sentence allowable by law is appropriate. Twelve months. That is the sentence of the court.”
He reiterated several times that he was prohibited by state law from handing down a lengthier sentence.
Conroy spoke during the sentencing hearing about her desire to improve her life for the sake of her second child, who was born while Conroy was in custody.
“I can’t change what happened, but I can change what will happen,” Conroy said.
But Dixon questioned whether Conroy was taking the hearing seriously, and said that he had seen her laughing in the hallway on the way to court. Conroy said she had been laughing about something that someone said.
This isn’t the first time Dixon has questioned whether Conroy was taking court proceedings seriously. On Nov. 18, Dixon ordered Conroy jailed until trial after she failed to appear in court. Prosecutors argued that Conroy had violated the conditions of her release by possessing drugs and having contact with witnesses in her case. She was eight months pregnant at the time.
Court documents give the following account of the circumstances leading to Conroy’s arrest in the death of her child:
Thurston County Sheriff’s deputies responded to a home at 7030 Steamboat Island Road on Nov. 3, 2014, and found an 18-month-old boy who had died in a fire. The home was a converted shop building with three bedrooms, heated exclusively with portable heaters.
The fire appeared to have started in a bedroom that had been heated with an electric grill, with the grill portion removed. Other residents of the home told deputies that Conroy had been warned on several occasions not to use the grill as a heater, especially after the grill started two smaller fires. Residents had been able to extinguish the other fires on their own.
On Nov. 3, the grill was found plugged into the wall and less than 1 foot away from the bed. The room was dirty and filled with clothes, garbage and car parts.
Conroy told deputies that she had put her son to sleep at about 2:30 a.m. and left to eat in a neighboring building. She said she had been gone for about 30 minutes when another resident discovered that the room had caught on fire.
A nearby man tried to rescue the child, but he wasn’t able to enter the room because of the flames. Conroy also tried to enter the room and received a minor burn on her face when she opened the door.
The child was found under a desk, with the heater cord wrapped around his left leg. Based on his injuries, investigators believe that he had been crawling through the room and became tangled in the cord before the fire started.