A Franklin mother of a 7-year-old boy who was found trying to sell his stuffed animal in August near a drug store to buy some food for himself and his brothers received a pair of six-month jail sentences Friday afternoon.
Tammi Jo and Michael Bethel each pleaded guilty to child endangerment Sept. 16. Tammi Bethel appeared in Franklin Municipal Court on Friday for a 15-minute sentencing hearing.
Bethel was originally charged Aug. 7 with five counts of child endangerment after police found the boy and in their investigation found the home he shared with four brothers was in deplorable living conditions.
Her husband, Michael Bethel, 36, was also scheduled to sentenced Friday but was unavailable because he had been admitted into Atrium Medical Center for an undisclosed illness. His attorney, Cynthia Brandenberg, asked for a continuance. Judge Rupert Ruppert granted the continuance.
Ruppert said he was issuing a bench warrant and setting bond at $50,000 “so that he doesn’t disappear” after he is released and ordered Michael Bethel to appear at the next available court date for sentencing.
Prior to the start of the hearing, Tammi Bethel was in the restroom vomiting.
Her attorney, David Chicarelli Jr., told the court that she was willing do whatever it takes to get her children back and would take responsibility and accept any sentence the court imposed. Chicarelli also reiterated what was in the pre-sentencing investigation that Tammi Bethel had “a great deal of medical issues” and that “she knows she’s made a mistake.”
“She wants to get her children back,” Chicarelli said. “…She’s been compliant with (Waren County) Children Services…. The children love their mother very much and want to be under her care.”
The children are in the care of their grandmother, he said.
Tammi Bethel said, “If I do get sentenced to jail time, I would request a stay of execution. I’ve been throwing up all night and in your parking lot…. I love my children and I will do anything to get my kids back.”
Ruppert then heard from an advocate for the children who told the court this was repeated behavior for Tammi Bethel and that there were several ongoing cases in Butler and Warren counties with the same pattern of behavior.
Bethel told the court that she had been with her husband for 20 years. She said the children’s father has an alcohol problem and that she was the victim of emotional and mental abuse. Tammi Bethel also said she was seeking a divorce.
Ruppert said that she had “a strange way of showing love” to her children and said that she had to keep her premises clean and sanitary.
“This is not the first time your children have been removed from your care,” Ruppert said. “…. This is the seventh time.”
After reviewing the police report on the home’s filthy condition where some of the children were found and noting that Warren County Children Services already had an open case prior to this incident, Ruppert found that the children were endangered and possibly suffered physical, emotional and psychological damage.
He imposed a six-month sentence on the first count and suspended a consecutive six-month jail term. In addition, Tammi Bethel will be on probation for three years after she is released.
Shortly after she was taken into custody, Bethel complained of chest pains and was transported by ambulance to Atrium Medical Center after a Warren County Sheriff’s deputy arrived to escort her.
Franklin police Officer Steve Dunham found the boy who said that he hadn’t eaten in several days. Dunham took the boy across the street to a Subway restaurant, where he bought him something to eat before taking him to the police station. Two other officers went to the child’s home, where they found the other four boys, ages 11, 12, 15 and 17 living in squalor in a house full of garbage, cat urine and liquor bottles. The kindness of the three officers garnered national attention when the story hit the Internet.
Warren County Children Services did an emergency removal of the children and placed them with relatives. The parents are not allowed to have any contact with the boys.
The Franklin community also provided various amounts of assistance from groceries to back-to-school clothes from the Franklin Walmart store.
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