Catherine Lowe, who tuned 36 on Oct. 15, this morning pled guilty to manslaughter in the Jan. 13, 2011 death of Anna Celeste Lowe.
Lowe was charged with 2nd degree murder in the child's death, and jury selection was slated to begin today. The child's father and Catherine Lowe's husband, Wesley Lowe, also was to face trial on negligent homicide charges. Those are on hold for now.
According to Lowe's defense attorney, Randal Fish, the deal carved with by Bossier/Webster District Attorney Schuyler Marvin, will cap the time Lowe will serve at 25 years. In Louisiana, the penalty for manslaughter is up to 40 years at hard labor; however, the law stipulates that when a victim is 10 years old or younger, 10 of the years served with be without parole, probation or suspension of sentence.
Fish said the decision to plead guilty to manslaughter was entirely Catherine Lowe's, adding that in a plea agreement, everyone has to compromise. He added that he was completely ready to go to trial today.
But that wasn't to happen. While prospective jurors filled more than half the seats in Courtroom 2B where jury selection was to take place, Jamie Mercer, mother of little Anna Celeste, and her supporters were ushered into a private courtroom, where Catherine Lowe entered her plea before retired Louisiana Supreme Court Judge Joe Bleich.
A tentative sentencing date was set for Dec. 18, Fish said.
Mercer said the district attorney's office called her late Sunday afternoon and asked her to be in court at 9:30 this morning. At the time, Mercer told NBC 6 News she believed Catherine Lowe had chosen to plead guilty to manslaughter. Mercer was not upset or worried about downgrading the charges from second degree to manslaughter, but said she wanted only one thing - "I want to hear her confess. I want to hear what happened."
That didn't happen today, though Mercer did hear Lowe enter her guilty plea, and after the judge explained the consequences of her plea to manslaughter, indicated she fully understood what she was doing. An explanation from Lowe could come at the time of sentencing.
Lowe was offered the manslaughter plea several months ago and turned it down, Mercer said; but at the time, the deal stood with 40 years in prison. But if Lowe had gone to trial and been convicted of second degree murder, she would have been sentenced to life in prison without possibility of parole, probation or suspension.
It remains unclear why Lowe finally agreed to take the deal, but reportedly, Wesley Lowe had agreed to testify for the prosecution.
The crime was particularly heinous in that when the Lowes took Anna Celeste to Willis Knighton Pierremont Emergency Room on Jan. 13, 2011, for treatment, medical personnel there estimated she had been dead at least two hours, and rigor mortis had begun taking effect and was present in the child's facial area.
An autopsy was immediately performed by Bossier Parish Coroner, Dr. John Chandler, who determined the cause of death to be the result of internal injuries and bleeding into the body cavity.
Wesley Lowe had temporary custody of the child, after filing an ex parte restraining order against Mercer, Anna Celeste's domiciliary parent who lives in West Monroe, claiming abuse. Mercer in January filed a civil lawsuit in 26th Judicial District Court against the Lowes, along with a number of state and local agencies involved in the custody issue.
NBC 6 News Reporter Kimberly Rusley was at the Bossier Parish Courthouse this morning when Lowe entered her guilty plea.
Watch her exclusive interviews with defense attorney Randal Fish and Anna Celeste Lowe's mother Jamie Mercer at 5 and 6 today.