Appeals panel orders sentence reduced in fatal neglect case

The Indiana Court of Appeals on Wednesday ordered a reduction in the sentence of a woman convicted of neglect resulting in the death of two of her children, finding the offense is not a crime of violence as defined by statute.

Kristen Gober was sentenced to 51 years in prison after she was convicted in Lake Superior Court of two counts of Level 1 felony neglect of a dependent resulting in death. She also was convicted of a Level 6 felony neglect count after she left her children — ages 2, 4 and 6 — unattended in her Gary apartment while she stayed in the apartment of the building’s maintenance man. The two younger children died after setting the apartment on fire while trying to make breakfast.

The fire also displaced 80 residents of the apartments and in one instance caused a 4-year-old to jump from a fourth-story window to escape the fire.

Gober pleaded guilty to the counts and her sentences were capped at 30 years on the Level 1 charges and one year on the Level 6 count, the advisory sentences for each felony. The court sentenced her to 51 years — 25 each on the Level 1 counts, served consecutively, plus one year served consecutively on the lesser count.

The COA found the trial court had not erred in its evaluation of three aggravating and three mitigating factors in sentencing Gober, but it did find that her sentence was excessive and ordered it reduced to and aggregate 42 years. The court noted that Indiana Code 35-50-1-2(d) provides that except for crimes of violence, the total consecutive term of imprisonment in a Level 1 sentence may not exceed 42 years.

“Although she was charged with three separate counts of neglect of a dependent, this was because there were three victims. However, her convictions arose out of the same facts and circumstances occurring at the same time and the same place. Her actions as they related to each victim occurred simultaneously and contemporaneously,” Judge James Kirsch wrote for the panel

“Therefore, we conclude that her convictions arose out of a single episode of criminal conduct. Because neglect of a dependent resulting in death is not a crime of violence as specified in Indiana Code section 35-50-1-2(a), the trial court was constrained to impose an aggregate sentence of no more than forty-two years under subsection (d). The trial court abused its discretion in imposing an aggregate sentence of fifty-one years, and we, therefore, reverse Gober’s sentence and remand for resentencing with instructions for the trial court to limit the aggregate term of imprisonment to not more than forty-two years.”

The case is Kristen Gober v. State of Indiana, 20A-CR-01651.

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