Prosecutors on Wednesday filed a first-degree felony murder charge against a Wichita man whose 10-month-old foster daughter died after she was left in a hot car parked outside her home.
Seth Michael Jackson, 29, appeared calm as he listened to Sedgwick County District Judge Joe Kisner advise him of the charge during his first court appearance Wednesday afternoon.
The count alleges that the girl’s death occurred within the commission of an inherently dangerous felony, according to the criminal complaint. The underlying crime alleged is aggravated endangerment of a child.
District Attorney Marc Bennett’s office also filed an alternative charge of second-degree reckless murder. That count alleges Jackson unintentionally killed the girl “under circumstances manifesting extreme indifference to the value of human life.”
Neither charge alleges premeditated or intentional conduct, Bennett said.
Wichita police Lt. Todd Ojile said last week that Jackson left the girl strapped into the back seat of the car after returning home from a baby sitter late Thursday afternoon. The child’s other foster parent, Jackson’s 26-year-old partner, was in the backyard and thought all of the children were playing downstairs in the home.
Jackson and his partner rushed outside and found the girl dead after they realized up to 2 1/2 hours later that she had been forgotten, Ojile said. Jackson had seen something on TV that prompted him to remember, Ojile said.
One of Jackson’s attorneys, John Stang, questioned the severity of the charge.
“First-degree murder seems to be excessive,” Stang said. “That being said, Mr. Bennett’s office, I’m sure, did what they thought was appropriate. I respectfully disagree in this situation.”
Stang said his understanding is that Jackson forgot the child because he became distracted at least partly by tending to a 5-year-old child in his care.
Jackson’s only question to the judge regarded the judge’s order to avoid contacting any of the state’s witnesses.
“I can’t talk to anybody on this list, including my husband and my mother?” Jackson asked.
“That is correct,” replied Kisner, who also ordered Jackson to have no contact with children.
The temperature in Wichita was about 90 degrees the day the girl died.
Ojile said the tinted windows on the gray Dodge Charger were rolled up. The baby was one of six children, ranging in age from 10 months to 18 years, living in the home. The men had already adopted two of the children and were in the process of adopting the girl when she died.
In an emailed response to Wednesday’s charges, Phyllis Gilmore, secretary of the Kansas Department for Children and Families, said the agency supports the criminal case against Jackson.
“We remain deeply saddened that this child suffered such a horrific death,” she said. “We support the charges filed in this case, and we will aid in any way possible the prosecution of the defendant.”
Gilmore announced last week that the agency was launching its own investigation.