The parents of a 3-year-old boy who was killed in January when a television set fell off a dresser admitted responsibility and, as a result, likely will not have to go to jail.
Zachary C. Stofle, 24, pleaded guilty Tuesday to criminally negligent homicide, a felony, and his wife, Kirsten, 23, pleaded guilty to endangering the welfare of a child, a misdemeanor, before Judge Sara Sheldon Farkas in a special Niagara County Court session held in State Supreme Court.
Farkas said Zachary Stofle could have faced up to four years in prison, and Kirsten Stofle could have faced up to one year in Niagara County Jail. The judge said that under the plea agreement, she does not plan to incarcerate either of them when they are sentenced March 14.
The couple's son, Dane Stofle, was killed Jan. 25, when he apparently pulled a 19-inch television off the top of a dresser in the bedroom of an Oliver Street apartment in North Tonawanda. The child had shared the bedroom with his two younger sisters, who were not injured.
His parents were initially indicted on charges that included second-degree manslaughter. If convicted of the original charges, they each could have faced up to 15 years in prison.
Assistant District Attorney Robert Zucco said the couple had been made aware by a day care center worker that the television had fallen before. But he said that shortly before the night of Jan. 25 it was put back in the room.
Kirsten Stole had reportedly left for her job at McDonald's at 7:45 a.m., leaving the children in the care of their father. Zucco said that because Zachary Stofle was home and not caring for his child at the time, he was held to a higher responsibility in Tuesday's plea. But he called both responsible in Dane's death.
"She took the 2-month-old out of the room so she wouldn't awaken the older children, then locked them in with no lights. Somehow the TV dislodged and fell on Zane," Zucco said. "They were aware of the risk."
He added that the bedroom door was locked so that their father could sleep.
Zachary Stofle said in court documents that he heard a noise shortly before 10 a.m. and went into the bedroom to find Dane lying on the floor on his stomach, with the TV set 1 1/2 to 2 feet away.
He said he called his mother first, and she told him to call 911. A dispatcher attempted unsuccessfully to help him administer cardiopulmonary resuscitation.
Attorneys for the couple said after court that it would have been a gamble to go to trial.
"This eliminates the risk of their being convicted [on the higher charges]," said Christopher Privateer, Kirsten Stofle's public defender. "But they also could have been acquitted."
"You never know what is going to happen," agreed Zachary Stofle's defense lawyer, Dominic Saraceno, of the county conflict defender's office.