ELKINS - An Elkins couple facing child abuse and neglect charges after a 5-year-old in their care almost died may serve no jail time if a plea agreement is accepted in the case.
Tina Marie Carver, 39, and her husband, Larry Neil Carver, 42, were arrested after the boy, who was allegedly forced to swallow spoonfuls of pepper as a punishment, went into full respiratory failure in March 2012.
Tina Marie Carver was indicted on one felony count of child abuse resulting in serious bodily injury. Larry Neil Carver was indicted on one felony count of child neglect resulting in serious bodily injury. Both were originally indicted in February 2013 and their indictments were re-presented in October 2013.
On Tuesday, Tina Carver, represented by attorney James Hawkins, submitted an Alford plea of guilty to the felony count of child abuse resulting in serious bodily injury. The plea would be part of a binding plea agreement that would sentence her to probation instead of jail time.
Senior Status Judge Thomas Steptoe deferred the plea, refusing to accept or refuse it until a pre-sentence investigation,
complete with victim impact statement, could be performed and submitted.
The sentence that would have to be given if the plea is accepted is two to 10 years in a state penitentiary, suspended for five years supervised probation followed by an additional five years of extended supervision.
Tina Carver would also be ordered not to have unsupervised contact with anyone under 18 years of age, and any contact would have to be supervised by an adult that was not part of her immediate family.
She would also be required to register for 10 years on the child abuse registry.
If the plea is accepted, Larry Carver's felony child neglect charge will be dismissed with prejudice, meaning the charges could not be brought back up at a later time.
Randolph County Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Christina Harper said the decision to offer this plea agreement was not taken lightly. She said the main consideration was the potential cost to the alleged victim.
"Without a doubt, the largest motivation for me, on behalf of the state making this plea offer, is the cost, the potential cost, to the victim in this case," Harper said. "The victim in this case is a child who is now 7 years old. He was 5 at the time of the incidents that gave rise to this criminal action.
"He is very articulate for his age and circumstances. He is bright and I do believe that he would present as a very competent and a very effective witness. However, that doesn't mean that testifying as to these matters for a jury in a courtroom wouldn't have a potentially harmful effect on him.
"At this point the child has moved on with his life. He has now been adopted, along with his siblings. They have a new home, new family, a new name and he is doing very well. He is thriving this time," Harper said. "I did consult with his therapist in considering potential resolutions to this case and keeping in mind what would be in the child's best interests."
Harper added that she also had the full support of the child's adoptive parents, as well as investigating officer Trooper 1st Class K.A. Corley of the West Virginia State Police, Allyson Scott of Child Protective Services and guardian ad litem Heather Weese.
Weese added she believed this solution was in the best interest of the child.
After announcing he was going to defer the plea until he received the pre-sentence investigation report from the parole office, Steptoe added the presiding judge will decide, based on the report, whether to accept or reject the plea. Sentencing for Tina Carver is set for 2 p.m. Oct. 1.
According to court documents, officials received a 911 call March 14, 2012, about "a child choking on a teaspoon of pepper."
The boy was transported to Davis Memorial Hospital and was found to be in full respiratory distress. He was then flown by HealthNet helicopter to Ruby Memorial Hospital in Morgantown, where he went into full respiratory failure, according to police reports.
Livesaving measures were administered to him six times, and he was eventually placed on life support in the Pediatrics Intensive Care unit of Ruby Memorial, according to court documents.
Once the child's condition stabilized, he was interviewed by Scott. He told her that "Mommy put pepper" in his mouth, and that he knocked the first spoonful of pepper out of her hand before she forced the second spoonful in his mouth, according to the police report.
Ruby Memorial's Dr. William D. Patten is quoted in the police report as saying that more than a tablespoonful of pepper was in the boy's stomach and lungs, and he had to be "suctioned multiple times." The police report quotes medical professionals as saying the boy could not have ingested that large an amount on his own.
The police report, prepared by Corley, details other alleged abuses as well.
Scott stated Tina Carver told her the boy sometimes ate his own feces. When Scott asked the boy why, he said he and his siblings all wore "diaper/pullups" and had to stay in bed until "it gets really light outside," according to court documents.
The boy told Scott that if the children had an "accident" in their diapers, they had to eat "rotten" cheese sandwiches, and afterward were made to take a "cold bath" to clean off the "accident," according to the police report.
The boy told Scott he consumed his own feces "because he said he is that hungry," and he said he sucked the urine out of his diaper because he was thirsty, according to court documents.
Scott said the boy told her he tried to hide his urine and feces so he could eat "regular food" because the "rotten" cheese sandwiches made him sick to his stomach. He said that if he had no "accidents," then he was allowed to eat normal food, according to the police
The boy also said he had been made to "squat down" for an extended period of time as a punishment, which made his legs hurt, the police report stated.