MUNCIE — A Daleville mother will spend at least the next two decades in prison after a Delaware County court accepted a plea agreement on a felony charge of child neglect.
Britni Nicole Wihebrink was sentenced to 30 years in prison Wednesday under the terms of a deal with the Delaware County Prosecutor’s office. Judge John Feick added a provision in the sentence allowing Wihebrink to petition the court for a modification of her sentence after 20 years.
On Sept. 5, 2018, Wihebrink’s 2-year-old son, Jaxon Stults, died in an ambulance on the way to IU Health Ball Memorial Hospital after he was found unresponsive in Wihebrink’s car.
Wihebrink, during a court appearance in June, admitted that she was intoxicated and apparently asleep at the time Jaxon left her apartment, entered the vehicle and closed the door. Jaxon apparently spent several hours in the car and passed out from heat exhaustion, according to a police affidavit.
At Wednesday’s hearing, Wihebrink’s grandmother, Donna Ferguson, and mother, Teresa Doughty, were among the witnesses who pleaded for leniency on her behalf.
“She is hurting more than any of us can imagine,” Doughty told the judge. “I believe she is aware of the pain she has caused and is just as shocked as the rest of us that she was capable of such a tragedy.”
Ferguson added: “She lives with this each day. This is her life sentence. Britni’s hope is to have the chance one day to make her family proud.”
Defense attorney Steven Bruce pointed to Wihebrink’s struggles with alcoholism, her history of involvement in abusive relationships and her participation in multiple recovery programs during her incarceration since Jaxon’s death as mitigating factors that called for a lighter sentence.
But Delaware County Prosecutor Eric Hoffman insisted that his office had taken those factors into account in recommending a 30-year sentence for the neglect charge, which is a Level 1 felony that carries up to 40 years in prison.
“A parent has no greater duty than to protect their own child,” he said, “and she failed miserably.”
Feick said Wihebrink’s sentence would include a credit of 692 days served. He said Jaxon’s older brother, Landon, who prosecutors said discovered Jaxon’s body, “will be traumatized for the rest of his life.”
“I appreciate the fact that you accept that responsibility,” he told Wihebrink. “I think prison is a warehouse. People are put there so they can’t hurt anybody. You can help other people now.”