By LEVI PULKKINEN | The Seattle PI
Initially charged with murder in the girl’s death, charges against Ashley Howes were dismissed with prejudice after a King County judge ruled that prosecutors could not use statements she made during a lengthy interview with police.
Howes, who has maintained her innocence throughout, filed a civil suit earlier this month claiming four Seattle detectives questioned her relentlessly in the hours after the child she was babysitting, Freya Garden, died while in her care.
Through her attorneys, Howes claims detectives brought her to a police station while claiming they would take her to her parents. Instead, according to the lawsuit, Howes, then 13, was questioned for 19 hours, was not advised of her rights appropriately and questioned after she told detectives she wanted an attorney present.
Even though the charges against her were dismissed, the arrest has left an indelible mark on Howes, attorney Lincoln Beauregard said recently.
“She’s been unfairly labeled as a baby killer,” said Beuregard, an attorney with Connelly Law Offices in Tacoma.
“These events from her childhood have followed her and keep following her to this day,” he continued. “She just wants some justice.”
Freya, her family and Howes had traveled to Seattle from their homes on the Olympic Peninsula when, at about 5:30 p.m. on Jan. 16, 2005, Howes called 911 to report the child was unconscious on the floor of a bedroom in the home.
The toddler died the following morning at Harborview Medical Center. The King County Medical Examiner’s Office concluded that Freya died from injuries suffered from being severely shaken; police contended the back of the toddler’s head struck a large soap-storage unit built into the wall behind a bathtub while being shaken by Howes.
In the hours after calling 911, Howes was interrogated by child abuse and homicide detectives at the department headquarters. Prosecutors contended she admitted she shook Freya on at least two separate occasions to get the baby to stop crying.
At the time, the girl’s defense attorney told the court the only thing Howes admitted to was “wiggling” the toddler and that it was more likely that Freya died from other, accidental causes, or possibly at the hands of a family member.
Ten months after the child’s death, those integrations were the subject of a week-long hearing before Superior Court Judge Mary Roberts.
Having heard argument from prosecutors and Howes’ attorneys, Roberts lambasted detectives for their treatment of Howes.
Police made no real effort to contact her parents or arrange for her to travel home, Roberts said at the time. She also didn’t buy one detective’s insistence that he did not consider the Howes a suspect in Freya’s death, when she clearly was one. Nearly two days after her arrest, a Seattle homicide detective questioning Howes accidentally mentioned in passing that Freya had died of her injuries; the toddler had been dead for more than a day, and Howes had not been told she was being held on suspicion of murder.
Roberts took issue with the interrogation techniques police used, including not informing the girl of her rights, not making sufficient attempt to contact the girl’s parents to be present and lying to her by telling her she wasn’t a suspect. Roberts threw out five interviews with Howes; she dismissed the case the following day.
Attorneys for Howes contend the Seattle Police Department violated Howes’ civil rights during the interrogation.
A spokeswoman for the Seattle City Attorney’s Office declined to comment on the case. During a 2008 lawsuit filed on Howes’ behalf but withdrawn so the young woman could pursue it as an adult, attorneys for the city asserted that Howes’ arrest and interrogation were lawful.
Attorneys for the city have not yet responded to the current lawsuit. A trial date has not been set.