Former nanny enters plea in Tri-Cities toddler’s 2016 death

It has been five years and three weeks since 2-year-old David Schreiber died after being rushed to the hospital with a fractured skull.

On Tuesday, the Richland toddler’s former nanny took responsibility for his death, saying she still thinks she is innocent but believes prosecutors have enough evidence to convict her at trial.

Jocelyn M. Bellon, now 34, entered an Alford plea in Benton County Superior Court to a reduced charge of second-degree manslaughter.

The hearing was scheduled on short notice.

Bellon was set for a bench trial Aug. 23, meaning Judge Jackie Shea Brown would have handed down the verdict after hearing witness testimony, instead of a jury.

Judge Jackie Shea Brown, left, presides over Tuesday’s Benton County Superior Court hearing for Jocelyn M. Bellon. The former nanny, who stands behind the defense table with attorney Scott Johnson, entered an Alford plea to second-degree manslaughter for the 2016 death of 2-year-old David Schreiber. Kristin M. Kraemer Tri-City Herald

Bellon had been the nanny for David and his 3-month-old brother.

She cried Tuesday as she acknowledged acting with criminal negligence in causing David’s death.

Parents Jennifer and Daniel Schreiber were in court for the hearing that lasted just 13 minutes.

“Ultimately this is Ms. Bellon’s choice, and she did not want to put the Schreiber’s through a trial,” said Scott Johnson, her attorney.

He thanked Deputy Prosecutors Brian Hultgrenn and Laurel Holland for continuing to work with the defense to find a resolution.

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David Schreiber had fun playing at the public library in Deerfield, Ill., during a family visit for Thanksgiving 2015. His parents were inspired by that visit to donate interactive panels and activity tables to the Richland Public Library after his death the following year. Courtesy Jennifer Schreiber

“She listened to our advice. She was as cooperative a client as I think any individual could have,” Johnson told Judge Shea Brown. “As the court knows, this is a highly technical case with highly technical evidence, and I remain convinced that there was a very good chance that Ms. Bellon would be found ‘not guilty’ as charged.”

“But ultimately her decision was that she wanted to take responsibility for what she did in this action,” he added.

“The court can tell just by her demeanor today this whole thing has been devastating. And it’s not lost on her that as bad as it is for her, it’s even worse for the Schreibers.”

Manslaughter charge

Bellon was first charged in 2017 with first-degree manslaughter. It included the aggravating circumstances that the young victim was vulnerable and that his death had a “destructive and foreseeable impact” on others.

Jocelyn Bellon
Jocelyn M. Bellon, pictured in 2017 with attorney Scott Johnson, entered an Alford plea Tuesday in Benton County Superior Court for the 2016 death of a 2-year-old who had been in her care. File Tri-City Herald

The plea statement on Tuesday said Bellon was playing with David on July 18, 2016, by swinging the toddler into the air as she held his feet.

“While he was coming down toward the floor, his head hit the tile floor and (he) died on July 19, 2016, as a result of the impact,” she wrote. “While I do not believe I was acting negligently, I believe that a trier of fact could determine that the evidence showed I was negligent.”

Bellon said she wanted to take advantage of the prosecution’s offer, which comes with a recommended sentence of two years and three months.

A sentencing date will be set by court administration later this summer.

Bellon can argue for a sentence below the minimum term of one year and nine months, including asking for no time behind bars.

She has been out of custody on her personal recognizance since her first court appearance in June 2017.

Almost a year passed between David’s death and charges being filed against Bellon while prosecutors sought further advice from pediatric specialists and other medical experts on the toddler’s injuries and cause of death.

Bellon had been alone with David and his baby brother, William, for about 1 1/2 hours when she called the mother, saying the toddler was choking, according to court documents.

Jennifer Schreiber then called 911. Both she and her husband were at work at the time.

When paramedics arrived at the Schreiber’s home, they found David unconscious and unresponsive with vomit around his mouth.

David was rushed to Kadlec Regional Medical Center in Richland, then transferred to Sacred Heart Medical Center in Spokane. He died the next day.

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The Schreiber family of Richland took a trip to Seattle the summer before David, 2, died in July 2016. Courtesy Jennifer Schreiber

Bellon — who was three days shy of her 29th birthday — said David was at the kitchen table eating lunch, while she was with the infant in the adjacent living room. She then heard David coughing and noticed that “his eyes started rolling back” as he was choking on food, documents said.

Bellon said she tried the Heimlich maneuver to see if she could dislodge the food, then started doing cardiopulmonary resuscitation, and finally ran to the bathtub to see if cold water over the top of David’s head would revive the toddler.

In a follow-up interview, she said David did not fall out of his booster chair that day, then changed her story to say the toddler fell while she was cleaning up in his bedroom, court documents said.

Doctors determined that David had a skull fracture caused by significant force, along with visible hemorrhages in both eyes. They determined the injuries occurred within minutes or hours of when the ambulance arrived, documents said.

A forensic pathologist also concluded from the autopsy that David’s head injury took both a high-degree of energy and “a tremendous amount of force,” and was not caused by a short fall like from a booster chair.

The following June on what would have been David’s third birthday, his family unveiled three interactive panels and two activity tables in the children’s area of the Richland Public Library.

Jennifer Schreiber — who lovingly referred to David as a “goofball” and “our perfect little 2-year-old” — told the Tri-City Herald before the memorial dedication that the family can’t change what happened.

“We can only change what we do moving forward, the decisions that we make and what we do to remember him, so that’s what I’m focused on here,” she said.”

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Kristin M. Kraemer covers the judicial system and crime issues for the Tri-City Herald. She has been a journalist for more than 20 years in Washington and California.