Melinda Drabek-Chritton, charged with abusing her husband's 15-year-old daughter, who was found barefoot and emaciated outdoors last winter, pleaded no contest Monday to two felonies, including reckless endangerment and causing mental harm to the girl.
Drabek-Chritton, 43, of Madison, whose husband Chad Chritton was convicted of felony child neglect involving his daughter, was convicted of the two felonies, which each carry penalties of up to 12½ years of combined prison and extended supervision.
There was no sentencing recommendation as part of the plea agreement. Dane County Circuit Judge Julie Genovese will set a sentencing date that could be as early as late May or as late as July. In the meantime, a state Department of Corrections agent will prepare a pre-sentence report about the case.
A jury was to have been picked Monday to hear a two-week trial for Drabek-Chritton.
After fleeing from the family home on Madison's Southeast Side in February 2012, the girl told authorities that Drabek-Chritton had threatened to throw her down the basement stairs. At that point, the girl weighed 68 pounds. She had run away from the home when passers-by saw her walking barefoot and wearing pajamas. She also told authorities that she had been confined to the home's basement.
The reckless endangerment charge against Drabek-Chritton includes acts that occurred between Jan. 1, 2007, and Feb. 6, 2012, while the mental harm charge encompasses Nov. 2, 2006, to Feb. 6, 2012.
According to the complaint, the girl told police that Drabek-Chritton would sometimes grab her by the throat so hard she couldn't breathe. At St. Mary's Hospital, the girl told a social worker that she was afraid of her stepmother.
The girl was home much of the time with Drabek-Chritton, who home-schooled her. The girl said that at one point Drabek-Chritton told her father that she was in charge of the girl "and that she is my personal owner." She also said that her stepmother deprived her of food.
The girl also described how she had to clean the house and at one time was forced by her stepmother to do it naked because she was taking too long.
After a three-week trial that ended March 15, Chritton, 41, was found guilty of the felony neglect charge and not guilty of a misdemeanor neglect charge. But the jury deadlocked on four other felonies, including first-degree reckless endangerment, child abuse, false imprisonment and causing mental harm to a child.
Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne said after Drabek-Chritton's hearing Monday that prosecutors are preparing to retry Chritton on the four deadlocked charges.
"Obviously we are looking to retry the case if it can't be settled," Ozanne said.
Chritton's lawyer, William Hayes, who has represented Chritton from the start of the case through his trial, asked Genovese recently to allow him to withdraw the case, which he said has caused him significant financial difficulties.
Ozanne said that prosecutors were prepared to try Drabek-Chritton.
"All I'll say is that we're glad the victim does not have to go through this again," he said.
Drabek-Chritton and her lawyer, Thomas McClure, declined to comment, leaving the courtroom through a back door into a hallway that is not accessible to the public.
But talking about the plea agreement in court, McClure said Drabek-Chritton was prepared to go ahead with it after discussing it Monday morning.
"After spending an hour on this, I was satisfied that this is her choice," McClure said.
Four other charges were dismissed as part of the agreement but can be considered by Genovese when she sentences Drabek-Chritton.
Drabek-Chritton's son, Joshua Drabek, is awaiting trial in June on charges of child abuse and two counts of sexual assault of a child.