Mom of 6-year-old who shot his teacher sentenced to 2 years in prison in state case

Source: ABC News

Date: December 16 2023

The Virginia mother of the 6-year-old boy accused of shooting his first grade teacher in class earlier this year was sentenced on Friday to two years in prison for child neglect.

Deja Taylor pleaded guilty in August to state felony child neglect in connection with the January shooting at Richneck Elementary School in Newport News. A misdemeanor charge of endangering a child by reckless storage of a firearm was dropped.

This is Taylor’s second prison sentence in connection with the shooting. In November, she was sentenced to 21 months in prison after pleading guilty to federal charges of using marijuana while in possession of a firearm and making a false statement about her drug use during the purchase of the firearm, both felonies.

Police say the 6-year-old student brought a gun into his classroom and intentionally shot and wounded his teacher, Abby Zwerner, on Jan. 6. Zwerner sustained a gunshot wound through her hand and into her chest.

Federal prosecutors said the firearm used in the shooting was purchased by Taylor in July 2022. ATF agents never found a lockbox, a trigger lock or a key for the gun, prosecutors said.

Deja Taylor faced up to five years behind bars on the child neglect charge. Prosecutors had recommended a six-month sentence, which fell within state guidelines.

Diane Toscano, Zwerner’s lawyer, released a statement Friday following the sentencing.

“There were multiple failures in accountability that led to Abby being shot and almost killed while teaching class — and our focus remains fixed on the school district’s inaction and failure to protect teachers and students,” Toscano told ABC News in a statement.

Zwerner testified during the federal sentencing hearing on the lasting impact of the shooting.

“Not only do I bear physical scars from the shooting that will remain with me forever, I contend daily with deep, psychological scars that plague me during most waking moments and invade my dreams,” she said.

The judge ultimately sentenced Taylor to five years with three years suspended. She will also serve two years of probation when she is released, which must include substance abuse treatment, parenting classes and mental health treatment, prosecutors said.

The state sentence will be served consecutive to the federal 21-month sentence she is currently serving, the Newport News Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office said.

Taylor’s attorney, James Ellenson, told ABC News the sentence was “excessive” and “harsh.”

She said she has undergone five surgeries and regular intensive physical therapy to restore motion in her hand.

“This permanent damage should never have been allowed to happen to me and would not have happened if not for the defendant’s actions or lack thereof,” she said.

Zwerner filed a $40 million lawsuit against her school district, accusing them of negligence. The school board’s lawyers sought to dismiss her claim, arguing her injuries are covered under the state’s worker’s compensation law. A judge ruled last month that the lawsuit can proceed.

Ellenson said he believed the judge felt Taylor had shown no remorse and didn’t take into account mitigating factors the defense had argued in court.

“I was arguing domestic abuse, substance abuse and mental health. Those were sort of the key issues that I thought were mitigating factors,” Ellenson said. “And also there were instances of maybe the system failing her.”

Ellenson had previously told reporters he believed no jail time would be appropriate for the child neglect charge.

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