An Alexandria mother whose 8-month-old son died after being left in a hot car has entered a last-minute plea deal with prosecutors.
An Arlington judge accepted the “no contest” plea Friday afternoon.
Zoraida Magali Conde Hernandez, 32, will be on supervised probation for 18 months, according to the terms of the deal. At the end of the 2 1/2 years, if Hernandez has no probation violations, the charge against her will be dismissed, with no finding of guilt and no conviction.
However, if she violates probation, the judge may find her guilty and sentence her to up to five years in prison.
Authorities say Hernandez left her 8-month-old son, Nathan, in his car seat for six hours on July 5, 2013. Hernandez was charged with felony child neglect and had a trial date set for Feb. 27 in Arlington County Court.
She had been released on bond following the completion of several court-ordered procedures, including a visit to her home from Child Protective Services. Hernandez has four other children.
Police said Hernandez drove to her workplace, the Catholic Diocese of Arlington, around 9 a.m. on July 5 and forgot she had left her son in the car. She left work at around 3:30 p.m. and drove to pick up her 2-year-old daughter from daycare in Alexandria, according to charging documents. At that point, she found Nathan still in his car seat. The baby was not breathing.
"[Hernandez] didn't give Nathan a second thought during the day," prosecutor Molly Newton said in a pre-trial hearing. "[She left him] burning up to death."
Hernandez immediately drove to INOVA Alexandria Hospital. The baby was pronounced dead a short time later.
Nathan had a body temperature of 108 degrees, the charging documents state. Temperatures that day reached into the 90s.
Meantime, several community members have come together to support Hernandez.
"My heart just broke for the mom and obviously broke for the baby," said Crystal O’Neill.
O’Neill heard about the Hernandez’s story through her husband, who also works for the Diocese.
As a mother of one, with another child on the way, O’Neill felt compelled to help support Hernandez’s defense.
"I'm not saying that there are not parents who have left their child intentionally in the vehicle when the shouldn't have, but in this type of case that's not what's happened," O’Neill said.
She’s created a fund-raising web site for Hernandez called AidZoraida.com.
"It's not just her life it's affecting. It's further devastation for her family. They've already been through enough," O’Neill added. "The best thing they could of done is not prosecute, not pursue a trial at all. Take that taxpayer dollar and turn it around into an awareness campaign for new parents."
The fund-raising website also features more pictures of Hernandez and her family. O’Neill says it’s more representative than a mugshot.
"People look at that picture of the mugshot and they see someone who looks disheveled and a mess, well of course she looks disheveled mess, she just lost her baby and she bears some responsibility in that,” O’Neill said, “Who wouldn't look destroyed at that point?"
Hernandez’s defense attorney, Rebecca Wade said this case has become personal.
“Everybody asks you as a criminal defense lawyer, ‘How do you represent people that you know are guilty?’ And the truth of the matter is they're not the hard ones. It's the people that actually don't deserve to go to prison, that really take a toll on you," Wade said.
"My opinion is that prosecuting cases like this are actually a detriment to keeping kids safe," Wade said. "Because when you're prosecuting this case you're sending the message that it only happens to bad moms, or it only happens to bad parents, and therefore it's not something I have to worry about."