by Heather Tomlinson
Four people accused of exposing a young child to meth-making ingredients will see their cases go before a grand jury, in spite of initial progress made in securing plea deals for the group.
Brittany N. Helton, 24, the mother of a 20-month-old who was burned when he allegedly attempted to drink “Liquid Fire” drain cleaner while at a home with meth-making ingredients inside, appeared to do an about-face Thursday during a hearing in front of Pulaski Circuit Judge Jeffrey T. Burdette.
Helton’s public defender, Andrea Simpson, informed Burdette that her client wished to enter an Alford plea of guilty to one count of third-degree controlled substance endangerment to a child and one count of facilitation to manufacture methamphetamine.
An Alford plea is entered when a defendant maintains innocence but acknowledges enough evidence exists against them to bring about a conviction in court.
Burdette, however, indicated he wouldn’t accept an Alford plea.
“I understand the seriousness of this offense,” Burdette told Helton during the hearing.
Burdette stated that he would accept either a guilty plea or a not-guilty plea, and when prompted to respond, Helton entered a not guilty plea to her original charge of second-degree controlled substance endangerment to a child.
Helton’s decision to pull her guilty plea had immediate consequences for her co-defendants — Curtis W. Anderson, 23, Brian K. Herrin, 36, and Krystal E. Hampton, 26.
Prosecutors during Thursday’s hearing announced that they would withdraw plea deal offers already made to the four and hand the cases to a Pulaski County grand jury for consideration.
Anderson had already entered a guilty plea to one count of second-degree wanton endangerment, a misdemeanor, in August in connection with the incident.
Herrin and Hampton’s cases were up for review on Thursday alongside Helton’s case. Both have been charged with second-degree controlled substance endangerment to a child, and Herrin was also charged with manufacturing methamphetamine.
All four were arrested in late August after a 20-month-old boy was treated at Lake Cumberland Regional Hospital and later the University of Kentucky for burns to the mouth, face and chest.
Anderson, the child’s father, took the young boy to the hospital after the alleged incident occurred.
Initial fears were that the child had ingested the acid, potentially leading to death, according to investigators, but during treatment, doctors discovered that the acid had barely entered the mouth, burning the child’s lips, then spilled onto his chest and splashed onto his legs.
The child allegedly tried to drink the cleaner, thinking it was something else, while at Herrin’s residence on Aug. 20. Investigators stated that Helton took the boy to Herrin’s residence. All four people live on South U.S. 27, Loop 4, in Burnside.
Immediately following the incident, Herrin and Hampton allegedly fled the scene. A search warrant executed at the Herrin residence turned up several items used to manufacture methamphetamine, including muriatic acid, batteries, tubing, salt, and acetone, according to the sheriff’s department.
The defendants’ cases had been progressing as part of the Rocket Docket program, which means they chose to waive the grand jury process in order to resolve their cases quickly.
Pulaski County Commonwealth’s Attorney Eddy F. Montgomery said he “fully expects” the four defendants’ cases to go before a grand jury in October.