Atwater mom sentenced to year in jail, suspended prison time in toddler’s death

Amanda Klaas
Amanda Klaas Merced County Sheriff’s Office

A 22-year-old Atwater mother on Wednesday received a four-year suspended prison term and a year in jail in connection with the death in 2014 of her 2-year-old son.

Amanda Klaas also was ordered to serve five years of probation and attend parenting classes and counseling following her conviction earlier this year on a felony count of child endangerment.

Klaas, who has no prior criminal history, is expected to apply for an alternative sentence with the Merced County Sheriff’s Office, which could include house arrest. She is due to report to the Merced County jail April 10.

The conviction stemmed from the March 4, 2014, death of her son, Levi, who was left unattended for at least 17 hours at Klaas’ Vine Street home in Atwater.

Levi was left alone in a bedroom behind a closed door when a dresser fell on him, possibly as he tried to climb it. Experts testified during a trial in January that Levi had been dead at least eight hours by the time Klaas opened the door to check on him.

After reviewing the case, the Merced County Probation Department recommended the sentence of a year in jail, suspended prison time, probation and counseling.

Nicole Silveira, the supervising deputy district attorney who prosecuted the case, asked the judge to sentence Klaas to serve some term of incarceration, but did not seek any specific time frame.

“We asked the judge, but left it to him whether that should be (prison) or jail,” Silveira said. “We respect the judge’s decision to follow the recommendation from probation.”

Silveira said Klaas showed “no remorse” or any sense of “responsibility” for the child’s death. During the trial, the prosecutor argued Levi’s death was not just an accident but the consequence of essentially deserting a toddler in a dangerous home.

Defense attorney John Garcia disagreed.

“She wasn’t charged with being responsible for the child’s tragic death,” Garcia said. “The conviction related to neglect had more to do with the overall conditions of the home.”

Garcia described Klaas as a heartbroken mother who has been grieving for the past three years. He said he was pleased Klaas will receive counseling, saying he hoped she could benefit from it.

“It was unfortunate and tragic and it could’ve happened to anyone,” Garcia said Wednesday. “We don’t think incarceration will solve anything in this case. While it does send a message that crime will be punished, I’m not convinced it will achieve anything.”

Garcia said he and Klaas have not discussed appealing the case, but said that possibility has not been ruled out.

Silveira said she hoped the conviction would provide “some sense of comfort” to the family of the child’s father.

“I hope it also raises awareness about the dangers of child neglect and may make it so that another child doesn’t have to suffer,” she said.