ATHENS, Tenn. - The mother and grandmother of Angel Mae Delashmitt are agonized that the man charged with rape and murder in her 2003 death pleaded guilty Wednesday to lesser charges.
"I am not happy about what happened," Annette Beloat, Angel's grandmother, said after rape charges were dismissed and Mitchell Delashmitt pleaded guilty to reckless homicide and child neglect.
The McMinn County resident received a combined five-year prison sentence with nearly four years' credit for time already served.
The sudden end of the 7-year-old case came Wednesday when prosecutors learned they had no medical evidence to back up the rape charge.
Criminal Court Judge Carroll Ross explained that the state's medical expert, Dr. Ronald Toolsie, could not testify because his license had been suspended in Georgia and, under reciprocity laws, would be suspended in Tennessee, as well.
Dr. Toolsie also is under indictment on drug charges in Hamilton County. His attorney told prosecutors that Dr. Toolsie would not have testified anyway in the Delashmitt case except to exercise his Fifth Amendment right not to answer questions and not to incriminate himself.
"Dr. Toolsie's problems became more than the state of Tennessee could overcome," McMinn County Assistant District Attorney Jim Stutts said.
"There was nothing the DA could do about it because of Dr. Toolsie," Ms. Beloat said. "We are still going to fight to have the laws changed. We have to get out there and raise awareness. He (Mr. Delashmitt) walked on this because of one doctor's mistakes."
PDF: Suspension order for TN PDF: Suspension order for GA
Mr. Delashmitt's attorney, John Eldridge, spoke for his client after the unexpected turn of events, his client sitting motionless beside him in the courtroom.
"Mr. Delashmitt is relieved it is over," Mr. Eldridge said. "He feels terrible, absolutely terrible about the loss of his daughter; that he fell asleep. He and his family have not been able to grieve. Now, they can grieve."
When Mr. Delashmitt was arrested in 2003, he said he had fallen asleep when he was supposed to be baby-sitting Angel Mae. He later confessed to the rape and murder charges, but Judge Ross threw out the confession in 2007 because Mr. Delashmitt was denied an attorney before he made the statement.
In Judge Ross' chambers at the McMinn County Courthouse on Wednesday, Mr. Delashmitt agreed that he had been drinking and smoking marijuana on June 19, 2003, the day Angel died.
A neighbor came over to borrow a lawnmower and the two smoked and drank, he said. The same neighbor came back later to ask for a ride and had to shake him awake, Mr. Delashmitt said. When they searched for Mr. Delashmitt's daughter, they found her body about 70 yards away in a pond, he told the judge.
Mr. Eldridge said that the child had been walking since 10 months and was known to chase after dogs and other creatures.
In previous hearings, two forensics experts, including the state's chief medical examiner, testified the child died by drowning and that there was no rape. They said Dr. Toolsie's autopsy was wrong and that the child had water in her lungs, indicating drowning.
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