Adriana Lytle, the 33-year-old stepmother accused in the torture death of 4-year-old Summer Phelps, pleaded guilty Monday morning to a charge of homicide by abuse.
Summer’s biological mother, Elizabeth Phelps, sat crying in the courtroom as Lytle stood and spoke her guilty plea.
Lytle is likely to spend at least 20 to 26 years in prison under the standard sentencing range for homicide by abuse, defined as causing the death of another “through a pattern or practice of assault or torture.” But her sentence could be longer if Spokane County Superior Court Judge Michael P. Price considers aggravating factors and imposes an exceptional sentence.
Lytle, who has no previous criminal convictions, won’t be sentenced until after the trial of her husband, Jonathan Lytle, Summer Phelps’ father. His trial in Price’s courtroom is scheduled to start Oct. 13.
Jonathan Lytle had “substantial involvement in Summer’s death, and we want that to be brought out,” said assistant public defender Anna Nordtvedt, one of Adriana Lytle’s court-appointed attorneys.
Adriana Lytle “isn’t playing crazy,” Nordtvedt said, in a reference to a court battle over Jonathan Lytle’s mental competence to stand trial. At a May 9 hearing, he refused to sign an order that would have allowed his trial to proceed after a competency evaluation at Eastern State Hospital, insisting instead on a further court hearing. That mental competency hearing is set for Sept. 8.
“Evidence at the trial will show he is far more responsible for what happened. Judge Price has both cases and will have the full picture by the end of the Jonathan Lytle trial,” Nordtvedt added.
It’s unclear whether Adriana Lytle will be called to testify against her husband. Spousal privilege rules, which prohibit married people from having to testify against each other, don’t apply to child abuse cases, Nordtvedt said. But there has been no arrangement so far to have Adriana Lytle testify, she said.
Adriana Lytle “was abused herself and married an abusive man … and he wants to pin all this on her,” Nordtvedt said.
Jonathan Lytle’s court-appointed attorney, Dennis Dressler of the Counsel for the Defense, submitted an affidavit in March that says his client has “serious mental problems.”
He is accused of torturing, beating and using a dog’s electric shock collar on his daughter, who died at a Spokane hospital on March 10, 2007. When he brought Summer to the hospital, medical personnel immediately suspected “vicious child abuse,” according to police reports.
Phelps, of Bend, Ore., said in a previous interview that she’d trusted the couple to take good care of Summer. On Monday, she said she’s glad Adriana Lytle pleaded guilty to spare her having to sit through two trials. She also said she hopes the judge imposes the longest sentence possible on Jonathan Lytle.
“They took my future away,” she said.