A Dumfries caregiver who allowed a baby to drown in a bathtub while high on Oxycodone pleaded to involuntary manslaughter and child abuse charges in Prince William Circuit Court on Thursday.
Stephen Randall Wendel, 35, was also charged with felony homicide, but that charge was dropped in a plea agreement with prosecutors. Wendel entered Alford pleas of guilty to the two charges. In an Alford plea, the defendant doesn’t admit guilt but acknowledges prosecutors have sufficient evidence to convict if the case went to trial.
When emergency responders arrived at 21 Prince William Circle on Aug. 27, it took so long for anyone to answer the trailer door that they considered breaking it down to respond to a reported infant not breathing, Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Sandra R. Sylvester told the court Thursday.
Once the door was answered, they quickly realized that Wendel and her housemate, Alison Nicole Spivey, were under some intoxicant, Sylvester said. Spivey’s six-month-old daughter was cold and unresponsive. At Potomac Hospital, baby Josephine’s body temperature was recorded at 87.8 degrees Fahrenheit. Doctors had to raise her body temperature to pronounce her death, Sylvester said.
Josephine had been left in the bathtub for about two hours while her caretakers were asleep. Spivey, 25, told police that she awoke to her 3-year-old son and the sound of water running in the bathroom. The toddler had tried to rouse his mother for some time, Sylvester said. Wendel awoke to the sound of Spivey’s screams.
Tests of Wendel’s blood showed 0.08 milligrams per liter of Oxycodone in her bloodstream, Sylvester said. Spivey tested positive for Oxycodone at 0.21 milligrams per liter.
“Both subjects would have been at peak absorption at the time the child was placed in the bathtub,” Sylvester said.
Prince William County police discovered an overflowing bathtub when they searched the trailer. Water had climbed the bathroom walls three to six inches up from the floor, and seeped into the trailer’s foundation. Floating in the bathtub was a child safety seat, with a warning label: “Prevent drowning. Always keep baby within arm’s reach.”
Investigators also discovered numerous pills and prescription bottles inside the house. Both Wendel and Spivey had previous convictions for drug offenses. Spivey was convicted of possession of heroin in Chesterfield County Circuit Court in 1999. At the time her daughter drowned, she was on still on five years of inactive probation from Chesterfield County. Wendel was on three years of active probation for conspiracy to distribute OxyContin.
Federal prosecutors issued a detainer for Wendel for a possible probation violation in September, according to federal district court records in Alexandria. Incurring new convictions is generally considered a violation of a defendant’s parole.
“The abuse of drugs often leads to the abuse of children,” Commonwealth’s Attorney Paul B. Ebert said after the hearing. “This is one of the most egregious cases.”
Both Josephine’s father, Patrick Mott, and her grandfather declined to comment after Thursday’s hearing. Mott and Spivey had split up and she moved in with Wendel about a month prior, Spivey told police. She and Mott had an informal shared custody arrangement, Spivey told police. The morning of Josephine’s death, Mott dropped the children off at the trailer on his way to work.
A few hours later, Wendel put the children in the tub and turned on the water, according to criminal complaints filed with Prince William Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court. Then Wendel went into a bedroom and fell asleep. Spivey told detectives she found Wendel curled up on the bedroom floor.
Wendel gave police three different versions of events, Sylvester said. First, Wendel told detectives that Spivey asked her to bathe the children. Next, she said she didn’t know how the children got into the bathtub. Then she said that Josephine’s brother placed her in the tub. A child development expert determined the 3-year-old was incapable of lifting his sister into the tub, Sylvester said.
Wendel told police she planned to propose to Spivey, and had purchased a ring, Sylvester said. Investigators discovered paperwork to cover Spivey’s children under Wendel’s insurance, Sylvester said. Wendel, originally listed as a white male on criminal complaints filed with Prince William Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court was determined to be a woman at the adult detention center, Sylvester said. In 1994, Wendel changed her name from Carol Renee Wendel to Stephen Randall Wendel, according to Prince William Circuit Court records.
Wendel is scheduled for sentencing July 21. She faces a maximum of 20 years in prison for the two charges. As part of a plea agreement, prosecutors have recommended she serve 10 years in prison and a five-year probation.
Spivey is scheduled for trial on charges of felony homicide, involuntary manslaughter and child abuse in June.