After deliberating for six hours over two days, a San Diego County jury has convicted a nurse of cruelty to a child for leaving her 3-year-old in a hot car while she visited two stores last January.
Myngan Thi Le, 32, of Escondido was then sentenced to pay a $714 fine, serve four years' probation and attend a year-long parenting class.
She went to trial on a misdemeanor count of cruelty to a child by endangering her health. Her defense attorney has argued it was a lapse of judgment, not a criminal act.
Le’s trial started on Monday; the jury received the case on Wednesday and returned the verdict just before noon Thursday.
"It was a close call from my estimation" on whether it was criminal, defense attorney Brian White said, noting the jury decided otherwise.
White described his client as a loving parent who went through an "unfortunate series of circumstances."
Deputy District Attorney Abigail Dillon said she believed it was an appropriate sentence given the situation.
"I don't believe she was a malicious person," Dillon said. "I don't believe she meant for the child to be hurt in any way."
Jurors heard at trial that the mom decided to stop at North County Fair Mall the afternoon of Jan. 14 because she was feeling sick and needed to use the restroom.
Le’s 3-year-old daughter was asleep so the registered nurse decided to leave the girl in the car while she ran inside.
She stopped at the Macys but the bathroom was closed for 15 minutes, her attorney told jurors in opening statements Tuesday. So Le decided to go to the Gymboree store in the meantime before returning to Macys.
She returned to her car 45 minutes later to find police and firefighters, who had smashed the window to free the child from the minivan.
Escondido police said they found Le’s daughter crying and soaked in sweat with red, flushed skin. The defense contends the child was upset, crying and had an elevated heart rate because of all the commotion.
While the temperature that day was 72 degrees, temperatures in the car were “significantly higher,” police said.
White said the jury sent a message by the verdict: Under no circumstances should you leave a child unattended in a car.
The deputy DA noted the same takeaway: "We take the safety of the children in our community very seriously."