GADSDEN, Ala. - A woman who spent nearly nine years in jail awaiting trial after being charged with murder in the death of her infant daughter is being freed after pleading guilty to a reduced charge of manslaughter.
Tonya Cate must spend two years on unsupervised probation, but she won't have to spend additional time behind bars because she was credited with the years she already had served.
The Gadsden Times reported the 39-year-old Cate pleaded guilty Tuesday to manslaughter in the 2003 death of 16-month-old Serena Cate, who died of a head injury.
Cate had been jailed since March 2005 on the murder charge, which carried a possible death penalty upon conviction. She made no statement at the hearing.
Cate's adopted daughter was taken to Gadsden Regional Medical Center on Sept. 26, 2003, before being airlifted to a children's hospital in Birmingham, where she died three days later.
Forensic tests were not completed until Dec. 22, 2004, and Cate was charged in January 2005. She was released on $100,000 bond until she was indicted in March of that year, and she remained in jail until her guilty plea.
Cate's attorney, Roy McCord, said his client did not admit guilt in the child's death and entered the plea because it was in her best interest.
District Attorney Jimmie Harp said new evidence brought by the defense raised substantial issues over the cause of death, and Cate had passed a polygraph test. Harp said all of those things gave him serious doubts about getting jurors to convict Cate of murder.
"I had reasonable doubt in my own mind," Harp said. "If I have reasonable doubt in my own mind, how can I ask a jury to convict someone of something that could put them away for the rest of their life?"
Etowah County Sheriff Todd Entrekin, who was involved in the case from the start, said he had no doubts about gaining a conviction, and he was unhappy with the outcome of the case.
"Tanya took a chicken way out, a best interest plea," Entrekin said. "(She knew) if she had gone to trial, she would have gotten the death penalty."