Mother pleads not guilty in son’s Christmas Eve fire death
A Craig mother pleaded not guilty Monday, Aug. 26 to a charge of criminally negligent homicide in the Christmas Eve fire death of her 3-year-old son.
Vanessa Allison Jenkins, 26, was arrested Wednesday, April 3 on a felony charge of child abuse negligently causing death, and was released on bond the next day.
She appeared before Judge Michael O’Hara’s Moffat County Courtroom No. 1 Monday afternoon and said little other than to plead not guilty.
A 13-page redacted arrest from April details the circumstances surrounding the fire, in which police say Jenkins found herself waking up on the couch to her home ablaze and her child screaming as the room he was in was engulfed in flames.
According to the affidavit, officers with Craig Police Department responded to the 1900 block of Woodland Avenue about 10:30 a.m. Christmas Eve to find smoke and flames billowing from the home and a woman, later identified as Jenkins, “yelling that her child was still inside.”
At least three Craig officers were first on the scene and tried to enter the home, without success.
“After a few feet, we could not continue any farther into the residence due to flames and smoke,” the affidavit reads.
Craig Fire/Rescue began its fire control and rescue efforts, making way to the southeast bedroom, where the child was reportedly last seen. The affidavit states fire crews used water to extinguish the fire and a chainsaw to open a large hole into the room. A body believed to be the child was found between an interior wall and what was believed to be a mattress.
Officers said they made a call to a fire investigator with the Colorado Division of Fire Prevention and Control, who responded and began assisting police in an investigation into the blaze after securing a search warrant for the Jenkins’ residence.
As search crews sifted through the burned bedroom, police noticed no signs of an electrical fire, but found “a melted, but intact, BIC style lighter,” which the affidavit reads was found near the child’s body.
Police said an autopsy later showed high concentrations of carbon monoxide in the boy’s blood, suggesting he was alive when the fire started. His death was originally ruled as accidental.
After several minutes of scheduling Monday between prosecutors, Jenkins’ defense counselors, and Judge O’Hara, the court officials decided on a Dec. 16 trial date beginning at 8 a.m.
O’Hara warned Jenkins she should not commit any new offenses while she waits for trial, especially making contact with the many witnesses likely to be involved in her trial.
“If you violate the conditions of a protection order, that could get you charged with some new crimes,” O’Hara said.
O’Hara also ordered Jenkins vacate the home of one possible witness where Jenkins had been staying.
“Do you understand all of that?” O’Hara asked Jenkins.
“Yes, your honor,” Jenkins replied.
Jenkins jury selection, also known as “voir dire,” is scheduled to begin Oct. 7 at 1 p.m. in Judge O’Hara’s courtroom No. 1.
Jenkins and multiple court officials declined to comment on the record Monday regarding what deal Jenkins declined after it was offered by the 14th Judicial District Attorney’s Office in exchange for Jenkins’ plea of guilty.
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Mike Cochran is grateful.