PREBLE COUNTY — Last week, Preble County Judge David Abruzzo found 35-year-old Chastity Hall guilty in the deaths of her two young children.
The decision stemmed from Hall abandoning her children overnight on Feb. 21. Her children, Malea Bradburn, 10, and Malachi Bradburn, 9, died in the fire which destroyed Hall’s home while she was out partying with friends.
Hall was found guilty on two counts of third degree child endangerment, as well as two counts of first degree involuntary manslaughter. The verdict was filed by by the court on Friday, Sept. 11.
A felony of the first degree carries a maximum prison sentence of 11 years and a felony of the third degree carries a maximum sentence of three years in state custody, according to Prosecuting Attorney Martin Votel.
Hall had waived her right to a jury trial and Abruzzo heard the case in a bench trial on Monday and Tuesday, Aug. 31-Sept. 1.
The mother had faced two additional charges, third degree involuntary manslaughter, which were dismissed as the findings indicated the charges merge with the first degree involuntary manslaughter charges, according to Abruzzo.
The facts of the case, as Abruzzo stated in his decision, are not complicated and – for the most part – undisputed.
“There is no question that by leaving her children at home without appropriate supervision the defendant violated a duty of care or protection that created a substantial risk to the health or safety of her children,” he said in his statement.
The court found that, beyond a reasonable doubt, Hall’s absence on that day was a cause of her children’s’ deaths – but there is no evidence that she wanted her children to be intentionally harmed.
The second issue was if the fire was foreseeable as well.
Votel wrote in a press release on Monday, Sept. 14: “The charges in the case arose from the defendant’s behavior on Friday night, Feb. 20, 2015 leading into the morning of Saturday, Feb. 21, 2015. The evidence in the case demonstrated that the defendant was the single mother of Malea Bradburn, age 10, and Malachi Bradburn, age 9, and that she had asked family members to babysit the children that Friday night. When the family members refused, the Defendant became angry and the police ordered her off her father’s property.”
Votel continued, “At approximately 11:30 p.m. that night, after the children had gone to sleep, the defendant left the children alone and went to the local VFW where she met friends and had a shot and beer. The Defendant then went to the Fraternal Order of Eagles in Eaton where she stayed until 1:30 a.m. It was as this point that the defendant went home briefly to freshen her make-up and check on the children. By 2:05 a.m., however, she was at 230 Club, where she ordered a shot and a beer.
“She then went to an ‘after-party’ at a local residence where she stayed until approximately 3:30 a.m. The defendant ‘got drunk and lost her keys,’ and next went to the home of a local Eaton man she had met at the after-party. The Defendant stayed at his house until approximately 6:30 a.m. A friend who lived nearby gave the defendant a ride home at 6:50 a.m., at which time she learned that her home had burned down overnight and that both of her children had died in the fire.”
According to Votel, the evidence at trial also demonstrated that the fire was reported at 3:43 a.m., shortly after Hall left the after-party. The cause of the fire could not be determined, but two expert witnesses presented by the State concluded that the fire had started in Hall’s master bedroom of the home.
“The State’s case was premised on the argument that the Defendant had violated her duty to protect her children, and that her failure to stay home and supervise the children was a direct cause of their deaths, and that their deaths were legally foreseeable,” Votel wrote.
Abruzzo ruled that, while not expected, the starting of a fire was “clearly foreseeable.” He cited the evidence of an electrical issue with the light switch in her son’s bedroom, as well as at least one instance of him starting a fire in the home back in December.
The fire that started was also determined to be slow building and, when the first responders arrived to the scene, the flames were through the roof but had mostly engulfed the southwest corner of the house. There were also two working smoke detectors in the house.
It was determined by the court, had Hall been home, she more than likely could have saved her children from the fire.
“This is one of the most tragic cases I’ve seen in my 18 years as a prosecutor in Preble County,” Votel said. “The verdicts in this case are certainly legally and morally proper, but unfortunately no verdict or punishment can undo what happened to Malea and Malachi. These young children needed and deserved the protection of their mother, who was their only parent. The defendant’s wholesale abandonment of her children in order to go bar-hopping and partying until the light of day was offensive and it was criminal.”
Hall is scheduled to be sentenced on Wednesday, Oct. 28 at 1 p.m. She remains free on bond until her sentencing date.