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Lytle backs out of guilty plea

Fri., June 6, 2008

A plea deal by the stepmother of 4-year-old Summer Phelps, who died last year after being repeatedly beaten, bitten and tortured, fell through Thursday.

“She wants to think about it some more,” said Anna Nordtvedt, one of Adriana L. Lytle’s public defenders, as the lawyers abruptly left the courtroom where Lytle was scheduled to enter her plea.

Lytle’s guilty plea to homicide by abuse charges would have sent her to prison for at least 20 years. The plea hearing has been rescheduled for July 21, a few days after her husband Jonathan Lytle’s mental competency hearing. He also faces homicide by abuse charges in his daughter’s death.

Spokane County Superior Court Judge Michael P. Price, who is handling the case, never appeared in court but talked with lawyers in his chambers.

Nordtvedt said Lytle, who had been expected to address the court, grew upset when she saw an array of television cameras and reporters – and Summer’s biological mother – sitting in the courtroom awaiting her guilty plea. She asked for a week or so to think about it. The next date available to enter her plea was in July.

Summer’s mother, Elizabeth Phelps, had traveled to Spokane from Eastern Oregon to hear Lytle enter her plea. Her daughter had lived with the Lytles since August 2006.

In a courthouse hallway interview before the anticipated plea, Phelps said she had trusted the couple to take good care of Summer and hoped Price would impose the longest sentence possible.

“I will never be able to get my daughter back. I’ll never see her prom or her first baby. They took my future away,” Phelps said.

In an order signed Tuesday, Price sealed the police reports related to Lytle’s guilty plea. The prosecutor’s office asked for the confidentiality order, and Price approved it – a ruling that puzzled the county’s chief public defender.

“I’ve never heard of this,” said Spokane Public Defender John Rodgers. “They are keeping them confidential from whom?”

Deputy Prosecutor Larry Steinmetz said he asked for a temporary confidentiality order to prevent the potential jury pool from seeing the reports until a jury is picked for Jonathan Lytle’s trial, scheduled for Sept. 8 – and for a possible trial for Adriana Lytle should the plea bargain not hold up. Defense lawyers for Jonathan Lytle, citing widespread publicity, have already asked for a change of venue.

“This is not a gag order, but we are trying to mitigate the damage to the jury pool,” Steinmetz said.

The information in last year’s police reports on the Summer Phelps case, however, has already been widely reported by the media. The police search warrant affidavits and other records obtained by The Spokesman-Review last year describe what happened after Jonathan Lytle brought his “unresponsive” daughter to Deaconess Medical Center on March 10 last year. Medical personnel immediately suspected “vicious child abuse,” the reports say.

Deep bruises covered the child’s body. Her face was burned, and large handfuls of her bright red hair had been ripped from her head. Her rectum was distended and bruised, the reports say.

When police searched the Lytles’ apartment at N. 707 Monroe St., they found a bathroom full of urine-soaked clothes and towels that Summer had been ordered to clean in the bathtub for hours. Adriana Lytle had discovered the child collapsed in the bathroom about 10 p.m. March 10 and yelled to her husband, “I think I killed your daughter,” the police report says.

Adriana Lytle told police detectives “she wished Summer had never come to live with them” and admitted slapping and biting the child, the police report says.

Police also found a dog collar apparently used to shock Summer and a mop handle that police say was used as a weapon by Jonathan Lytle, who shoved it against Summer’s rectum.

Adriana Lytle, 33, has been in the Spokane County Jail since her arrest. Jonathan Lytle’s criminal proceedings were put on hold March 31, when he was ordered to Eastern State Hospital for an evaluation of his mental competency to stand trial. At a May 9 hearing, where the state was prepared to move ahead with his trial, Lytle insisted on a contested hearing on his mental competency. It is scheduled for July 17.


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