NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (WAVY) — Deja Taylor, the mother of the 6-year-old who shot his teacher at Richneck Elementary School, has pleaded guilty to a felony charge of child abuse and neglect.
Taylor, 26, entered the plea on Tuesday morning in Newport News Circuit Court. While that charge typically carries a sentence of 1 to 5 years for a trial conviction, the Commonwealth as part of the plea deal will recommend a 6-month sentence. However, the judge will have ultimate discretion.
The shooting happened back in January. First grade teacher Abby Zwerner was shot and is recovering.
Taylor seemed irritated Tuesday in court, standing hand on hip as she faced Circuit Court Judge Christopher Papile. Defense attorney James Ellenson said that she does, indeed, hold herself responsible for what happened to Zwerner.
“She feels very responsible, feels very bad. I think that’s just part of the general irritability, anxiety, depression, and everything else,” Ellenson said.
Meanwhile, alarming new details emerged as the Commonwealth gave the court its stipulation of facts surrounding the shooting, referring to the first grader only as “JT”.
In the summer previous, two days after his sixth birthday, JT had played with a gun at his grandmother’s house and said he wanted to visit a gun range.
JT had once taken the keys from his mother’s purse, and Child Protective Services directed her to put the keys a lockbox, which Taylor did. But she left the loaded gun in her purse, and JT told authorities he stood on a dresser drawer to reach it.
When asked about locking up the car keys but not the loaded gun, Ellenson said he had not discussed that with Taylor.
Two days before the shooting, prosecutors said JT told Zwerner, “I’m never coming back to your room, you b****”. The next day, January 5, he was suspended.
The afternoon of January 6 in Room 11 of Richneck Elementary, police say JT shot Zwerner through the hand and into her upper body. She is suing Newport News Schools and several educators for $40 million.
Zwerner’s attorney Diane Toscano said Tuesday afternoon in a statement, “as the criminal probe widens, our focus remains on justice for Abby and holding the school system accountable for failing to act on warnings the boy had a gun.”
When confronted by police shortly after the shooting, JT told authorities “F*** you, I shot my teacher”, and he punched a staff member who was restraining him in the face. The child also reportedly said, “I stole that gun from my mom, I needed to shoot my teacher”.
Police say they found the Taurus 9mm on the floor of the classroom. The gun had additional rounds in the magazine.
In April, a grand jury indicted Taylor on the child abuse and neglect charge. She was also charged with a class 1 misdemeanor for leaving a loaded gun around her child. The Commonwealth agreed in court Tuesday to set aside the misdemeanor gun charge.
Taylor was also charged with federal gun charges. In June, she pleaded guilty to using marijuana while having a firearm and making a false statement when purchasing the gun. She is scheduled to be sentenced on the federal charges in October.
Taylor faces from 18 months to 2 years on the federal charge. Ellenson says if sentenced to jail time in both the state and federal cases, he will try to get the sentences to run concurrently.
Ellenson told reporters outside the courthouse that he wonders why the child’s father, Malik Ellison, was not charged along with Taylor. Ellenson says Ellison was aware and even present at times when JT played with guns.