Thursday, November 15, 2001

Poison ruling: guilty

Girls put drain cleaner in teacher's drink

By Marie McCain
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Two elementary school girls, ages 12 and 13, were found guilty Wednesday of attempting to poison their sixth-grade teacher last May at Oyler Elementary School in Lower Price Hill.

        “A lot of children only think short term, but part of growing up is learning to think long term,” Juvenile Court Magistrate Thomas Flynn told the girls as he announced his decision.

        “Hopefully you'll learn that you have to think down the road. You have to think how your choices might affect other people. You two made choices that could have killed somebody else,” he said.

        Tears and tight hugs between the girls and their mothers followed his decision.

        The girls will return to court Nov. 28 for sentencing. They were allowed to remain on electronic monitoring until a judge decides their sentences. The girls could receive probation or be detained until they turn 21.

        The girls, who are not being named because of their age, also had been accused of tampering with evidence and obstructing official business in the incident. The magistrate said the prosecution failed to prove criminal intent on those charges.

        The pair have 14 days to object to the magistrate's decision, officials said.

        Authorities originally charged four girls in the case, in which students poured liquid drain cleaner into teacher Nancy Wyenandt's water bottle. The teacher did not drink from the bottle because it felt warm. She placed the bottle in a refrigerator and left it overnight.

        The next day, the girls retrieved the bottle, poured out the contents and threw away the bottle.

        The four were charged with contaminating a substance for human use, tampering with evidence and obstructing official business for lying to investigators about the May incident.

        But charges against one of the girls, a 14-year-old, were dismissed for lack of evidence, while another 13-year-old girl pleaded guilty to her part in the crime and testified against the other two.

        She'll be sentenced for attempting to poison Mrs. Wyenandt Nov. 20.

        The prosecution argued that the two remaining girls admitted their parts in the plot against Mrs. Wyenandt in statements to police. One went so far as to write “I put the poison in the bottle.”

        That girl testified Wednesday and denied writing the sentence. She admitted pouring out the contents of the bottle and throwing it away because she wanted to protect her teacher.

        She also said she didn't want to be accused of trying to kill her teacher.

        Defense attorneys for both girls argued that their clients' statements to police should not be held against them because they wrote what police told them to write.

        They also argued that one of the girls — the one who testified against the other two — bullied other classmates into implicating them.

        Christopher Kraus, an attorney for one of the girls, called the magistrate's ruling discouraging. He said it should send a message to other parents of pre-teens.

        “Teach your children that if they are ever suspects of the police in Hamilton County and they are being questioned by police they have the right to remain silent, because anything they say can and will be used against them. To me, that's what this case boiled down to,” Mr. Kraus said.

        “Parents should teach their kids to assert their rights, especially when they are being told — commanded — what to do.”


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