Mother of girl, 6, killed in Wichita house fire convicted of child endangerment

05/12/2014 2:52 PM

08/08/2014 10:24 AM

The mother of a 6-year-old girl who died in a Wichita house fire last summer was convicted Monday in Sedgwick County District Court on three counts of aggravated endangering a child.

Ruthie Lee Bell, 28, entered pleas of no contest to Judge Ben Burgess, District Attorney Marc Bennett said.

She also was convicted on two counts of aggravated interference with parental custody after pleading no contest to those charges.

Prosecutors said Bell left the 6-year-old and her two sisters, ages 4 and 7, alone before the fire broke out in their home. Ja’Kara Dickson died three days later.

On Friday, Adrian Johnson, a 24-year-old co-defendant, pleaded guilty before Judge Joe Kisner to the same five charges. In two separate cases, he pleaded guilty to three counts of possession of controlled substances.

Bell’s trial was schedule for June 23. Her sentencing is set for June 25 by Judge Joseph Bribiesca.

Johnson’s sentencing date hasn’t been set.

The relationship between Bell and Johnson hadn’t been discussed in open court, Bennett said, so he couldn’t say why Johnson was part of the case.

“I expect it will be talked about at time of sentencing,” he said.

As for the aggravated interference with parental custody convictions, Bennett said that involved two children who were not at the house at the time of the fire. Both of those children were younger than three sisters who were in the house, he added.

The two children had been placed in state custody two days after the fire, Bennett said. Bell and Johnson had regular contact with the two and knew where they were, but they didn’t let the state know until Feb. 14.

Ja’Kara was home alone with her two sisters when the fire erupted at the southeast Wichita home about 7 p.m. She was playing with a lighter when she accidentally set her clothes on fire, authorities have said.

She ran ran into her bedroom and pulled off her burning clothes, but her bed caught fire and the flames quickly spread. The two sisters were not seriously injured.

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