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Mother of Richneck Elementary shooter pleads guilty to child neglect charge, firearm charge dropped

Attorney James Ellenson speaks to the media after Deja Taylor's plea hearing in Newport News. (Image: Laura Philion)
Attorney James Ellenson speaks to the media after Deja Taylor's plea hearing in Newport News. (Image: Laura Philion)


This story was upated Aug. 15, 2023 at 3:29 p.m.

Deja Taylor, the mother of the 6-year-old who shot Newport News teacher Abby Zwerner in January, pleaded guilty Tuesday to a child neglect charge in Newport News Circuit Court.

Prosecutors dropped a separate charge for leaving a loaded gun accessible to a child.

Taylor will be sentenced on Oct. 27 and faces one to five years in prison or up to a year in jail with a fine of up to $2,500.

"It's what we anticipated," Taylor's attorney James Ellenson said after the hearing. "It's just very emotional, the whole hearing. It's very upsetting to everybody."

A grand jury indicted Taylor on the state two charges in April. 

In June, Taylor also pleaded guilty in federal court for illegally obtaining and possessing a firearm and making a false statement on a Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) form to purchase the firearm.

She faces up to 25 years in prison for that charge, though actual sentences for federal crimes are typically less than the maximum penalties, media partner WTKR reports.

Taylor will be sentenced for the federal charges on Oct. 18, shortly before the local sentencing.

Ellenson said lawyers are considering an agreement that would limit her sentencing on the federal charges to no ore than two years in prison and no more than 6 months in jail for the state charges. But he believes Taylor should get no jail time given mitigating factors he plans to present at sentencing hearings, which includes issues of domestic abuse, post-partum depression, anxiety and experiencing a series of miscarriages.

“We are thinking of Ms. Zwerner and all the students [and] faculty who experienced these events as our office continues its investigation,” Newport News Commonwealth's Attorney Howard Gwynn said in a statement.  “The safety of our schools is of paramount importance, and we will continue to support the victims as they work through the effects of this incident.”

As Taylor’s charges are litigated, Zwerner is pursuing a lawsuit against the Newport News School Board that is making its way through the judicial process. 

Zwerner’s attorneys are asking for $40 million in damages and claim what happened to her isn’t a risk one could reasonably anticipate as a first-grade teacher.

The school system said in response that the issue falls under Virginia’s worker’s compensation law.

WHRO reporter Laura Philion contributed to this report.

Mechelle is News Director at WHRO. She helped launch the newsroom as a reporter in 2020. She's worked in newspapers and nonprofit news in her career. Mechelle lives in Virginia Beach, where she grew up.

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