Miami mom pleads not guilty to drowning autistic son in canal

A Miami woman accused of drowning her 9-year-old autistic son in a canal pleaded not guilty to murder charges at a Friday hearing.

An attorney for Patricia Ripley, 45, entered the plea during a video conference arraignment. Ripley faces charges of first-degree murder, attempted murder, kidnapping, aggravated child abuse and filing a false police report.

Prosecutors have filed a notice to seek a grand jury indictment for first-degree murder, but grand juries have been suspended because of the coronavirus pandemic. Under Florida law, only someone who is indicted by a grand jury can receive the death penalty.

Ripley first claimed she was ambushed May 21 by two black men, Miami-Dade police said. The mother said they demanded drugs and took her cellphone, tablet and son, before fleeing, prompting an Amber Alert in the area south of Miami. Alejandro Ripley was autistic and nonverbal.

The boy’s body was pulled out of a golf course canal the next morning as police continued to interrogate the woman. An arrest affidavit said she provided “conflicting statements,” and finally was confronted with testimonies of witnesses and video footage showing the first attempt of two attempts to push the boy into the canal. Nearby residents heard yelling and rescued him.

The document said she recanted her story and admitted she drove to another site about an hour later and led the boy into a different canal stating, “He’s going to be in a better place.”