Ex-day care owner not guilty in 3-year-old’s hanging death

A Fulton County jury acquitted the former day care owner of second-degree murder Friday afternoon. But Janna Thompson should not have left children in her care alone, the jury said.

Max Stephens was one of seven children at Thompson’s in-home day center on July 8, 2014, when he hanged himself on a piece of yellow twine, the type used around bales of pine straw. Prosecutors believe Thompson left Max outside alone for 18 minutes while she went inside to discipline a child and use the bathroom.

“There’s been emotion,” Pete Johnson, assistant district attorney, told the jury. “There’s been sadness. And anger, because this never had to happen. Never had to happen. Because of Janna Thompson. Max Stephens is dead.”

Thompson’s attorneys called the boy’s death an “unforeseeable, freak, tragic accident.” Thompson did not know the twine was in her backyard, attorney John Garland said during closing statements.

“How can you consciously disregard a danger you knew nothing about?” Garland said. “You can’t.”

Fulton Superior Court Judge Henry Newkirk told the jury that there must be knowledge of the string in order to convict Thompson. The jury asked twice for clarification on the charges.

After the verdict was announced, Newkirk read a statement from the jury.

“We the jury are disappointed and frustrated with the charges brought by the state,” the jury wrote. “While we found the defendant negligent in leaving young children unattended, we cannot find her guilty of criminal negligence as required by the charges.”

Read more on the verdict at myajc.com.