The now two-year-old case of a Rocky Mount toddler’s death reached an emotional conclusion Tuesday in Franklin County Circuit Court.
The child’s mother, Tabitha Danielle Amos, 30, was ordered to serve a half-year in jail for drug possession and for child cruelty related to the death of her daughter, 13-month-old Gabriella Moore.
That term marked the high end of the guidelines, which ranged from three to six months. Judge Clyde Perdue acknowledged the sadness of the situation but pointed to those recommendations before he announced Amos’ punishment to the crowded courtroom.
“Judges get sentencing guidelines. We can’t just do what we want to do,” Perdue said. “We can’t get caught up in a moment. Maybe a moment like this.”
Perdue also gave Amos 4½ years in suspended time and three years of probation, and he ordered her to be on good behavior for life.
Amos, held since September, is expecting another child and was visibly pregnant at Tuesday’s sentencing.
On Sept. 24, 2017, Amos found Gabriella lying unresponsive in a toilet at the Carolina Road home of a friend they were visiting. Despite efforts to resuscitate Gabriella, the child could not be revived. The medical examiner ruled the cause of her death was drowning.
Earlier that day, Gabriella had been left in the company of two children, ages 3 and 7, while her mother went outside. Text messages showed Amos told a friend she was “smoking,” and phone records indicated that, during that time, she took a call that lasted nearly 20 minutes.
A drug screen later showed Amos tested positive for “a phenomenally high level of methamphetamine,” according to Franklin County assistant prosecutor Sandra Workman. In July, Amos pleaded no contest to one count of child cruelty and two counts of drug possession.
At Tuesday’s sentencing, Gabriella’s father, Travis Moore, fought back emotion as he testified about the wound left by his daughter’s death.
“There’s no words that can describe what it’s done to me and my family,” Moore said. “It was just the Lord’s way of saying we borrowed her for 13 months and then he took her back.”
To Amos’ role, he said: “I don’t think she would intentionally do something to harm my daughter, because she was a good mother.”
But he also said he has yet to learn exactly what happened, and said Amos has given him contradictory explanations.
“I just want justice. I want answers,” Moore said.
Amos’ mother, Roxanne Harvey, said in court that her daughter struggled with mental health issues growing up, including bipolar disorder, and she suffered two sexual assaults as a juvenile, including one when she was 11.
She said Amos had problems with drugs in her teens but got treatment and thrived. Harvey told Perdue she was unaware that her daughter was using again prior to Gabriella’s death.
Defense attorney Tripp Hunt said that over the past year, Amos has attempted drug-related suicide on multiple occasions.
“She didn’t want to have to live ... with the knowledge that she led to her daughter’s death,” Hunt said. “She’s literally living within a prison herself.”
Workman’s perspective was more stringent.
“That child would still be alive if Ms. Amos hadn’t left her while she was out ... using methamphetamine,” Workman said. “I think the guidelines are off. They’re just off.”
“Give Gabriella justice,” she added.
Although Amos did not testify, she read a written statement, apologizing to Moore and to both of their families, likening the situation to “a nightmare.”
“Never will I trust anyone else with my child,” Amos told them. “Finally I have a reason to live and be strong. I will never use again.”