- The Washington Times - Monday, June 10, 2002

A Manassas father charged with child neglect and involuntary manslaughter should not be prosecuted, religious and political leaders say, because his daughter's death was "accidental and unintentional."
Kevin C. Kelly, 46, was charged Tuesday in the death of 19-month-old Frances Kelly, the youngest of his 13 children, who was left in the family's van for seven hours.
"Something very sad has happened, and the weight of criminal charges only adds to [the familys] pain," said the Rev. Bob Cilinski, a priest at All Saints Roman Catholic Church, where Mr. Kelly, his wife and their children are "very active members."
More than 50 members of the church appeared at Prince William County Circuit Court in a show of support for Mr. Kelly as Virginia Commonwealth's Attorney Paul B. Ebert presented the charges before a grand jury.
Mr. Ebert defended his decision to prosecute Mr. Kelly.
"Like any case, you look at the facts, and I thought the facts in this case justified taking it in front of the grand jury, and the grand jury agreed," Mr. Ebert said Friday. "Although I have sympathy for [Mr. Kelly], someone has to have a voice for that dead infant."
If the case goes to trial and he is convicted, Mr. Kelly faces up to 15 years in prison.
State Sen. Charles J. Colgan, Prince William Democrat and a friend of the Kellys through All Saints, said Mr. Ebert is "doing his job but it would be a shame if [Mr. Kelly] gets any jail time."
"The family is already devastated by this, and to me that's punishment enough," Mr. Colgan said.
Frances died on May 29 while Mr. Kelly was in charge of her and 11 of her siblings.
The mother, Mary Kelly, and the Kellys' oldest daughter were in Ireland to care for Mrs. Kelly's ailing father.
Authorities investigating Frances' death said Mr. Kelly returned to the family's Zimbro Avenue home about noon with six of his children in the family's van.
As he got out of the van, Mr. Kelly told the older children to take care of the younger children, including 19-month-old Frances. Police said he never asked the older children whether Frances had been taken out of the van.
Frances was discovered that evening by a neighbor who was walking past the van. Police, who said the temperature in the van reached 140 degrees, said she likely died from heatstroke.
"They had a system in place to take care of the children, and obviously there was a flaw," Father Cilinski said. "Little Frances' death was accidental and unintentional. Something didn't work, and we need to learn from it, but I don't think criminal charges and talk of jail time is what the family really needs at this time."
Virginia Delegate Robert G. Marshall, Prince William Republican, criticized the charges brought against Mr. Kelly.
"Prosecuting Kevin Kelly doesn't bring Frances back, and it won't prevent any further tragedy from happening," Mr. Marshall said. "I just don't see how a criminal prosecution does anything but drag the family through hell for a second time.
"Unless you've had this happen to you, you can't imagine the hell you go through," said Mr. Marshall, whose teen-ager was killed in an automobile accident last year. "It seems there's been a rush to judgment by prosecutors."
Mr. Ebert said he was prosecuting Mr. Kelly partly to teach the public about the danger of leaving children in hot cars.
Nationwide, 33 children died last year after being left in hot cars. In seven of the deaths, parents were convicted of criminal charges.
"Parents are unaware of how quickly the temperature in a car can rise even on just a warm day," said Angela Mickalide of the National Safe Kids Campaign, a nonprofit group that works to prevent unintentional childhood injuries.
"A child's core body temperature can increase three to five times faster than that of an adult in a hot vehicle," she said.
Mr. Ebert also said he was prosecuting Mr. Kelly because of "his history."
On two separate occasions during the past five months, Mr. Kelly has lost track of one of his children. On April 14, for example, a Manassas police officer found Frances wandering unsupervised in the middle of Zimbro Avenue.
Still, Mr. Marshall says he believes the case against Mr. Kelly is unfounded.
"The standard for what constitutes gross criminal negligence is extremely high. When a person roars through a red light at 110 miles per hour and kills somebody, that's gross criminal negligence.
"What Kevin Kelley did was assume like he had 100 times before that the older children were getting the younger ones out of the car. And this one time, it was a tragedy," Mr. Marshall said.


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