WACO, Texas — A Waco home daycare owner and one of her employees pleaded guilty to multiple felony charges on Tuesday. Still, one or even both of the women could avoid prison time entirely.
Pepper Jones, who owned Miss Pepper's Place, and her employee Britany Starr Hale, were arrested after the two turned themselves in in June 2017. Jones was indicted on one count of injury to a child and six counts of endangering a child. Hale was indicted on six counts of injury to a child.
After a five-year delay, the two women appeared in the 54th District Court via videoconference on Tuesday.
Parents of the affected children filed into the gallery hoping to see the defendant's faces. They were disappointed.
"That was a slap to the face," Robert Chavez said. "Why can't you face the parents? We're here."
Judge Susan Kelly then went through every charge one-by-one. Both Jones and Hale pled guilty to each of them. Parents said the admission was a long time coming.
"When they said guilty, you could feel the energy in the courtroom change. You could hear crying in the courtroom. It was a relief because (they) admitted that they were in the wrong," Chavez said.
Despite that admission of guilt, the defendants are not technically found guilty at this time.
Judge Kelly said she would wait until a pre-sentencing investigation was complete before finding either defendant guilty.
This is because attorneys for both Jones and Hale are working towards a probation option called deferred adjudication which could both keep them out of jail and keep a felony conviction off their record. The pre-sentencing investigation will determine if that is an option.
6 News Legal Expert Liz Mitchell said the option is used to keep people who can be rehabilitated out of the prison system if the judge agrees to it.
"The judge feels like you can rehabilitate yourself and you can turn things around. So lets keep you out of the justice cycle, lets keep you from being labeled a felon for the rest of your life, by giving you the option of deferred adjudication," Mitchell said.
If a defendant violates any terms of their deferred adjudication, however, they can be sentenced to the maximum penalty at the judges discretion.
In this case both Jones and Hale are facing a Third Degree Felony charge of injury to a child which can result in a prison sentence of two to 10 years and a fine up to $10,000.
Parents will now need to wait several more weeks to find out what punishment, or requirements, will be result from this case.
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