PLACERVILLE, Calif. (KTXL) -- The three women now facing involuntary manslaughter charges in the death of 13-year-old Max Benson stood before an El Dorado County judge for the first time on Wednesday.
Benson, who had autism, died nearly a year ago after he was restrained by a teacher at Guiding Hands School in El Dorado Hills.
The teacher, Kimberly Wohlwend, along with Principal Staranne Meyers and Executive Director Cindy Keller, pleaded not guilty.
“It is always a tragedy when there is a loss of life, especially such a young life,” Linda Parisi, Meyers’ and Keller’s attorney, told FOX40. “These two women have dedicated literally their entire lives to helping, educating, encouraging and working with special needs students. They have a 25-year history of exemplary service to this community.”
But their attorney was not the only one speaking on their behalf.
“These are probably two of the most moral people you have ever met. And in a million years, they would never harm a child,” Guiding Hands parent Cindy Brown said.
Brown made signs she displayed outside the courthouse. She said Guiding Hands was a godsend for five of her adopted children who have autism -- and have since had trouble finding the same services elsewhere.
“What people don’t realize they always say, ‘Oh, put them somewhere,'” Brown said. “I would like the address of somewhere. A lot of them have nowhere to go.”
Also defending the three accused was former Guiding Hands teacher Kyle McKoy, who worked at the school at the beginning of the last school year it was open.
“I feel like they possibly think that there was some kind of inappropriate procedures done or maybe there was not correct training done or things like that, which I would say is completely false,” he said.
McKoy said although what happened to Benson was tragic, the school is not to blame, especially considering the restraint he was put in was at the time state-accepted and legal.
“A restraint that had been used by our program, by other programs, and it had always been intact for us for the whole year,” he said.
The judge ruled Wednesday that the three defendants are not flight risks but said they can no longer teach or run a day care.
They are expected back in court in January.
Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly said the three defendants were flight risks.