SEBRING - A father who left his 2-year-old daughter to die in a car overnight plead no contest Wednesday to aggravated manslaughter. Circuit Judge William Sites scheduled sentencing for Christopher King for Dec. 16 at 1:15 p.m. King could receive a maximum of 30 years in prison. Shirley Whitsitt, attorney for King, said King could receive a minimum sentence of 13 years under sentencing guidelines. Although no plea agreement was reached, Assistant State Attorney Richard Castillo said that prosecutors would not pursue sentencing for King's second charge, felony child neglect, because that would involve some duplication.
The plea agreement came a little more than a year after Amelia King died after being left overnight in King's vehicle the night of Sept. 6 to Sept. 7, 2012. King at first claimed that his son accidentally locked the child's sister in the car. But the son told authorities that King went to sleep and forgot the daughter was in the car outside King's home. In the wake of the no contest plea, Castillo said, the goal of prosecutors was to hold King responsible by having him convicted. Whether it was through a trial or a guilty or no contest plea, "the mission was accomplished," Castillo said. Whitsitt declined to comment on why King decided to plead no contest. The no contest plea was an abrupt change in the direction of the case. Whitsitt on Tuesday had sought a continuance after Sites agreed that prosecutors could introduce testimony that King had used methamphetamine over a period of several days surrounding the death. Previously, the defense and the prosecution agreed the testimony would only involve the night of the child's death. But a key prosecution witness changed his testimony and would not narrow the drug use down to a particular night. As a result of that, Sites, who voiced reluctance about delaying the trial after a jury was selected, agreed that Whitsitt could conduct a deposition of the witness. Sites also gave Whitsitt time to contact a toxicologist about how long the drug would last in a person's system and how long it would have an effect. In the courtroom Wednesday, the attorneys talked with a toxicologist on the telephone who said methamphetamine would be out of a person's system within 24 hours of use. But, he also said that effects from crashing after using the stimulant could last for days and that the crash would more likely cause a person to sleep than not. Castillo said that testimony would benefit the state, as it would show that all the effects wouldn't end in a day. (863) 386-5834 firstname.lastname@example.org