No jail in burning-bed case after ‘lifetime of abuse’
An 11-year-old girl left court Monday facing no jail time and no criminal record even though she admits trying to kill her mother by setting her bed on fire.
A judge agreed with attorneys in the case that Samantha Broadhead acted only after a lifetime of abuse at the hands of Nancy Broadhead, starting with heavy drinking while the woman carried her child in the womb and ending the day the bed went up in flames.
On that day, Dec. 29, four days after Christmas, Samantha had awakened to a slap in the face from her mother.
Along the way, the state Department of Child and Family Services investigated Nancy Broadhead for neglect and abuse on half a dozen occasions. An older son was taken from her in a divorce, and Samantha was taken from her twice by DCF, but she retained custody of the girl through the years.
How could that be? “The state attorney said it was a product of legislative intent,” said Samantha’s attorney, Roger Futerman. “The ultimate goal is to reunite mother and child.”
Now, mother and daughter will be separated by court order. Staying away is one condition of Samantha’s probation. She also must refrain from contact with her co-defendant and boyfriend, Jack Ault, who at age 15 was sentenced to a juvenile offenders program for his part in the murder attempt.
In addition, juvenile court Judge Jack Day ordered Samantha to undergo treatment in a residential psychiatric center; stay away from drugs and alcohol; do 50 hours of community service; remain close to Lakeland, where she is living with an aunt; and write a letter of apology to her mother.
“You can make the rest of your life a whole lot better than everything that led up to your 12th birthday,” Judge Day told the girl, who turns 12 Friday.
Futerman provided details of what led up to the murder attempt, citing one of the injuries DCF investigated.
“It’s hard for me to relate to how a 4-year-old can have 4-inch welts on her buttocks and the mother saying she sat on a stove,” he said.
Nancy Broadhead tried to sit behind her daughter in court Monday before she was told to move. She declined comment to a reporter and didn’t say anything in court.
Speaking after Monday’s sentencing, Futerman read from 1,800 pages of DCF documents that influenced Day’s ruling, including his decision to withhold any judgment of guilt if Samantha completes her probation successfully.
The documents won’t be made public until another judge reviews them. The judge, Pinellas Chief Circuit Judge J. Thomas McGrady, decided to release the documents in response to a lawsuit by News Channel 8 and DCF.
According to separate court records, police arrested Nancy Broadhead for driving under the influence of alcohol in 2002 with a 4-year-old Samantha in the car. The mother’s blood alcohol limit was four times the legal limit for Florida drivers.
In 2005, two other cases followed in which Nancy Broadhead was accused of beating Samantha while intoxicated. The Pinellas State Attorney’s Office ended up dropping charges in those cases.
And Futerman, reading from the DCF records, told of an investigation in 1998 when Nancy Broadhead was pregnant and drinking, another incident where she was found drunk in a motel with a child, and a 2003 probation violation for using marijuana.
Samantha Broadhead and Jack Ault both faced charges of attempted murder, arson and grand theft when they were arrested Dec. 29 after fleeing in Nancy Broadhead’s stolen car as the family’s Clearwater home burned.
The mother now faces a series of skin grafts for her injuries.
In June, during a court hearing, Nancy Broadhead asked that Samantha be prosecuted as a juvenile, not an adult, for trying to kill her. “Hey Sam,” she said then to her daughter, as the girl was led from court. Samantha turned and replied, “I love you.”
At the courthouse Monday, attorney Futerman described his client as the victim.
“She suffered a lifetime of abuse by a drunken, abusive mother,” he said. “This is a very damaged child who came from a very sad environment.”