A Henrico County mom who left her three children behind during a September 2016 trip to Mexico was sentenced Wednesday to serve 1½ years in prison.
Henrico Circuit Judge John Marshall handed down that sentence to Aida Stovall on three felony charges of child neglect. Marshall ruled that Stovall could serve that sentence on a work-release program for which she would leave prison for part of the day for her job. Whether she is eligible for work release is up to the Henrico Sheriff’s Office.
Stovall, 31, asked two neighbors to watch after the children — an 11-year-old girl and 8-year-old twin sisters — while she went to Cancun, Mexico, according to prosecutors. Stovall didn’t have the two neighbors’ phone numbers or their last names, prosecutors said. The neighbors told investigators that while they could check in on the children periodically, they were not able to stay with the children.
Stovall said during Wednesday’s sentencing that she regretted what she did and that she realizes her actions led to her family being separated. The oldest sister now lives in Florida with her father, while the twins are living in Chesterfield County with their grandmother. Stovall, who has not been living with the children since the Sept. 14 trip, was taken into custody five days later in Miami as she returned from Mexico.
“I wish I never left,” Stovall said during the sentencing. “I wish I had made better decisions.”
Stovall’s Facebook page shows images posted during the trip depicting a seaside resort next to beautiful blue waters and palm trees.
In a Sept. 15 comment on one of the Facebook posts, Stovall wrote: “truly having the time of my life!”
The oldest girl, who is now 12, told investigators her mom instructed her to cook for the sisters and make sure they took their medication, police said in court documents. She also said she was supposed to make sure the twins took baths and dressed appropriately for school, police said.
Bobbi R. Graves, an attorney who was a court-appointed guardian for the children’s interests in the case, said the oldest sister has feelings of guilt because she was the one who alerted officials at her school about her mom’s trip.
Graves said that the girl is having difficulty adjusting to being a child and that she has to be told to go out and play or read a book. The twins also have been suffering from separation anxiety, Graves said.
Stovall spoke in sometimes halting and tearful testimony when she talked about her three girls, adding that she wants to be with her children.
“I walk into the room, and they’re not there,” Stovall said.
The defendant said she enrolled herself in a parenting class. There have been seven sessions of that class, and she said she hasn’t missed any, Stovall said. The defendant repeatedly said she took responsibility for what happened.
“I strongly believe that I am at fault for everything,” Stovall said.
But Stacey T. Davenport, an assistant commonwealth’s attorney for Henrico, said much of Stovall’s defense focused on her suffering in the case.
“Ms. Stovall is thinking about Ms. Stovall,” Davenport said.
Although the sentencing guidelines called for no active incarceration because Stovall has no criminal history, the prosecutor said that was not sufficient. Davenport asked for an active sentence of three years in prison. Davenport added that the defendant has testified that her oldest daughter pleaded with her not to go on the trip. The prosecutor called Stovall’s actions “appalling” and said they could not be condoned.
“Three young children were left while their mother went out of the country,” Davenport said.
Vincent Robertson, Stovall’s attorney, said his client had not deflected any responsibility in the case. Robertson said she enrolled herself in counseling and acknowledged her shortcomings.
“To say she is only thinking about herself and what has happened to her, I just don’t think that’s true,” Robertson said.
Robertson urged the judge to spare Stovall any active prison time, saying her children have already gone through a lot.
“I don’t see what is accomplished by incarcerating their mother,” Robertson said.
But Marshall said he was swayed to go above the guidelines by the facts of the case.
Marshall noted that much of the burden for watching the 8-year-old twins fell to the oldest sister.
“She was left to be a mother to two 8-year-olds and herself,” Marshall said.