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Mother's trial in her child's drowning death begins Feb. 4

MERRIMACK - A local mother who has been arrested three times since being charged with negligent homicide in the bathtub drowning of her baby boy will face trial in February.

According to court documents, jury selection for Melissa Gutierrez's trial is scheduled for Feb. 4 at Hillsborough County Superior Court in Nashua, as the deadline for any potential negotiated dispositions has passed.

Gutierrez, 26, is facing charges of negligent homicide, manslaughter, two counts of reckless conduct and two counts of endangering the welfare of a child for the Aug. 25, 2011 incident at her home at 46 Wilson Hill Rd.

Police allege that she left her two children, an 8-month-old baby and a 2-year-old boy, unattended in the bathtub for an extended period of time with the water running. The baby, Christian Ntapalis, drowned as a result of her negligence, allege police.

Court records indicate that the mother may have fallen asleep on the couch while water overflowed the bathtub where her two children played, eventually flooding the bathroom.

Gutierrez initially told authorities that she "may have dozed off," but didn't think she did because not much time had passed, even though none of the clocks in the house were working, says a motion filed by David Tencza, Assistant Hillsborough County Attorney.

An attorney for Gutierrez, Anthony Sculimbrene, has filed a motion to suppress those statements made to police, alleging they were obtained while she was hysterical over the death of her son. A court hearing on the matter was previously scheduled for Dec. 3 at Hillsborough County Superior Court, but has since been postponed until Jan. 14, 2013, court records indicate.

"The police took advantage of Ms. Gutierrez's understandably emotional state to get information from her. Under these circumstances, Ms. Gutierrez was so racked with agony and distress (as any parent would be) that she was of a mind incapable of a conscious choice," claims Sculimbrene in his motion.

The state has filed an objection to the defendant's motion to suppress illegally obtained statements, arguing Gutierrez was not subjected to a custodial interrogation at the time she made the incriminating statements to police.

"The record fails to show that detectives were engaged in any overreaching, deceptive or coercive actions," says the document filed by Tencza.

Gutierrez was originally free on bail, following her initial arrest, but was later placed on house arrest after allegedly stealing jeans from a store in Salem, and was also found to be in possession of a controlled drug. Since then, her bail has been revoked after she was subsequently arrested two more times; once on Sept. 14 for allegedly taking unpaid merchandise from a Rite Aid in Manchester, and again on Sept. 28 for allegedly operating a vehicle after suspension in Manchester.

While Gutierrez could not tell authorities how long her sons were unattended in the tub, during initial interviews, she eventually told police they were left alone for about seven to 15 minutes, and an additional three to five minutes while she searched for a towel in the basement, court documents indicate. Gutierrez later changed her story, insisting that she had not fallen asleep on the couch, but was instead cleaning the living room, according to court records.

Gutierrez, along with emergency personnel, attempted to resuscitate Christian but were unsuccessful. Her oldest son, James Blackington III, now 3, was placed in state custody, following the incident, as his father is deceased.

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Kimberly Houghton may be reached at khoughton@newstote.com.

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