HIGH LEVEL, Alta. — A woman in northern Alberta has been sentenced to 90 days in jail for neglecting to watch her baby girl who toppled into a batch of homebrew and drowned.
Viola Ribbonleg, 33, pleaded guilty earlier this year to criminal negligence causing death for failing to provide adequate care for 10-month-old Lexi.
The judge took into account the woman’s background and recognized she didn’t actively endanger her child, defence lawyer Michael Nanooch said Tuesday.
“The child got out of the bed and fell accidentally into the bucket of brew,” he said.
“She was neglectful as a parent. She didn’t forcibly put the child in a situation where the accident occurred.”
Nanooch said it also worked in Ribbonleg’s favour that she pleaded guilty.
“She took responsibility of what happened,” he said. “Denunciation wasn’t a factor (in the sentence).”
An agreed statement of facts filed in court says Ribbonleg’s son saw her and another man drinking brew in a trailer on the night of May 28, 2013, in Fox Lake, a community of about 2,000 that is part of the Little Red River Cree Nation.
The next morning, the statement says Ribbonleg was drinking again and her son believed she was drunk. She asked him to come home at lunch and babysit for the afternoon.
When he did, he found his mother sleeping on the floor. Two men were asleep nearby.
The boy found his sister head down in a crate of a fermented potato-yeast concoction, her legs sticking up in the air. He pulled the baby out of the crate and woke his mother.
The document says Ribbonleg tried to wake the infant and cried, “I love you.” Clutching her child’s limp body, the mother ran to a nursing station.
As paramedics tried to revive the baby, Ribbonleg knelt on the floor and cried. When they declared Lexi dead, she picked up the child and refused to put her down, trying to breast-feed her.
The statement says nurse Sara Peters noticed Ribbonleg was slurring her words and smelled strongly of homebrew, the same smell coming from the baby’s body.
It says Peters told investigators Ribbonleg refused to let go of Lexi for about three hours, even as the little body turned cold and blue.
Nanooch said Ribbonleg has six other children, five of whom were living with her at the time. She has no other criminal record.
Ribbonleg also received two years probation.
An Alberta Justice spokeswoman said the Crown is reviewing what steps may be taken next.