Child neglect sentencing delayed for mother of 6-year-old who shot teacher
Oct 26, 2023, 9:23 PM
(Stephen M. Katz/The Virginian-Pilot via AP, File)
NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (AP) — A sentencing hearing for the mother of a 6-year-old who shot his teacher in Virginia has been delayed until December.
Deja Taylor faces up to five years in prison after pleading guilty to felony child neglect, though prosecutors will recommend only a six-month sentence as part of a plea deal.
A sentencing hearing for Taylor had been scheduled for Friday in Newport News Circuit Court, but on Thursday a judge delayed the hearing to December 15. Court records indicate the delay comes at the request of both the defense and prosecutors, in part because a report from the guardian ad litem was not yet available.
In Virginia, a guardian ad litem is appointed to represent the interests of the child in cases alleging neglect.
Elementary school teacher Abby Zwerner was shot in her classroom in January by Taylor’s 6-year-old son, reviving a national dialogue about gun violence and roiling the military shipbuilding city of Newport News.
The bullet fired from Taylor’s gun struck Zwerner, a first-grade teacher, in the hand and chest. She spent nearly two weeks in the hospital and has endured multiple surgeries.
Taylor told police she believed her 9mm handgun was secured at home with a trigger lock. But authorities said they never found a lock during searches of the home.
Taylor’s son told authorities he climbed onto a drawer to reach the top of a dresser, where the weapon was in her purse. He concealed the gun in his backpack and then his pocket before shooting his teacher in front of the class, prosecutors said.
Zwerner rushed her other students into the hallway before collapsing in the school’s office.
Moments later the 6-year-old told a reading specialist who restrained him, “I shot that (expletive) dead” and “I got my mom’s gun last night,” according to search warrants.
Taylor was charged in April. As part of the plea deal, prosecutors agreed to drop a misdemeanor count of recklessly storing a firearm.
Taylor’s attorney, James Ellenson, said there were “ mitigating circumstances ” surrounding the incident, including her miscarriages and postpartum depression.
The child neglect case against Taylor is one of three legal efforts to emerge from January’s shooting.
Taylor pleaded guilty separately to using marijuana while owning a gun, which is illegal under U.S. law, and will be sentenced in federal court next month. A plea deal in that case calls for 18 to 24 months imprisonment.
Meanwhile, Zwerner is suing Newport News Public Schools for $40 million, alleging gross negligence. The former teacher says administrators ignored multiple warnings the boy had a gun that day and had routinely dismissed ongoing concerns about his troubling behavior.
The school board is trying to block the lawsuit, arguing Zwerner’s injuries fall under Virginia’s workers compensation. The law provides up to 9 years or more in pay and lifetime medical care for injuries.
Lawyers for Zwerner and the school board are expected to argue Friday morning before a Newport News civil court judge about whether the lawsuit should proceed. Legal experts say Zwerner faces an uphill battle under Virginia’s uncommonly strict workers compensation law.