Denise Wilder, the 37-year-old mother of two, was charged with two counts of child endangerment with special circumstances today in her first court appearance after her rearrest.
“We plead not guilty; and we’re certainly gratified she’s not charged with murder or any intentional crime,” said Wilder’s attorney Jess Bedore.
Wilder was arrested on April 4 and charged with suspicion of murder when her 2-year-old daughter McKinley was found dead in her Roseville home. But she was released a short time later because investigators weren’t sure what killed the toddler.
The autopsy report showed that her daughter died of acute malnutrition and acute alcohol toxicity. A news release from the District Attorney’s Office says the investigation is on-going but that the autopsy report and other forensic evidence warranted charges of child endangerment with the special circumstance of personally inflicting great bodily harm to a child under the age of 5 years.
Police say Wilder was drunk when police responded to the emergency call.
University of Pacific McGeorge School of Law professor John Myers, who specializes in child abuse and family law, says the autopsy was the key in filing the new charges.
“The autopsy report is the expert’s testimony in the form of the physician’s opinion,” said Myers.
The two felony counts include the mistreatment of McKinley’s 5-year-old sister, who was also in the home but is now living with other family members. With the special circumstances, the maximum penalty if found guilty would be 18 years in state prison. But Bedore tried to downplay the new charges.
“There’s penalties for willful child abuse with life sentences. They didn’t charge her with that. I don’t think anybody thinks she willfully intentionally did anything to that child,” said Bedore.
Bedore says he doesn’t know at this point how McKinley ended up with so much alcohol in her system, but said he implied there were plausible explanations of what happened to McKinley.
“I think there are a ton of mitigating circumstances but I’m not free to share them right now,” said Bedore.
He also said Wilder is holding up in jail and regrets the incident.
“She’s doing OK under the circumstances. There’s nobody who feels more sorry about her daughter’s death than her I can tell you that right now,” said Bedore.
Wilder’s no bail status was not changed and a bail hearing will be held to set a bail at Wilder’s next court appearance on July 5th.