NASHUA — The Merrimack mother whose 8-month-old baby boy drowned in an unattended bathtub nearly two years ago was sentenced Monday to 5 to 10 years in prison.
In court on Monday, Melissa Gutierrez, 28, apologized for her negligence, saying she hopes to turn her life around so that her baby’s death wasn’t in vain.
“It is something that eats me alive every single minute of every day,” Gutierrez said while taking the stand during her plea and sentencing hearing at Hillsborough County Superior Court.
In a negotiated plea, Gutierrez pleaded guilty to one count of negligent homicide, while additional charges of manslaughter, two counts of reckless conduct and two counts of endangering the welfare of a child were not prosecuted for the drowning incident Aug. 25, 2011, at 46 Wilson Hill Road in Merrimack.
Police alleged that Gutierrez 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 youngest boy, Christian N’Tapalis, drowned as a result of her negligence, police said.
The older boy, James Blackington III, was placed in state custody after the incident because his father is deceased. He is now 4.
“I am sorry. I would tell him that I am sorry and that it wasn’t supposed to be that way,” said Gutierrez, apologizing repeatedly for the drowning. “I love him. I love him.”
Following a lengthy and emotional testimony about Gutierrez’s challenged childhood, life with drugs and the deaths of two men in her life, Judge Jacalyn Colburn sentenced her to 5 to 10 years in the New Hampshire State Prison for Women, with the possibility of one year suspended if she completes various parenting, substance abuse, wellness and life skills courses.
Court records indicate that Gutierrez may have fallen asleep on the couch while water overflowed the bathtub where her two children played during the summer of 2011, eventually flooding the bathroom and causing water to leak through to the basement ceiling.
Her defense attorney, Anthony Sculimbrene, argued that Gutierrez was exhausted on the day of the drowning, adding she previously took several precautions to prevent drownings in the tub, including removing the mechanism that plugs the drain.
However, during testimony on Monday, it was revealed that a washcloth likely clogged the drain on the tragic day two years ago, causing the tub to overflow with the two children inside.
Previously, a medical expert testified in court that Gutierrez has led a life surrounded with death and drug addiction, noting she previously had an addiction to crack cocaine, prostituted herself and was the victim of a gang rape.
Sculimbrene previously attempted to suppress statements his client made to police following the death of her son, maintaining the statements were obtained while she was hysterical over the tragedy.
A doctor hired by the defense also previously testified that Gutierrez was suffering from acute stress disorder the moment she found her baby unconscious and, with assistance from a neighbor, attempted to resuscitate the child.The baby’s father, Peter J. N’Tapalis, was not forthcoming with police, according to David Tenzca of the Hillsborough County Attorney’s Office.“It is tragic,” Tenzca said of the baby’s death. However, Tenzca said the incident “was only a matter of time, unfortunately,” elaborating on a previous arrest when Gutierrez allegedly left her older son unattended in parked vehicle for an extended period of time in the summer months with just one window cracked open.
“DCYF was very much a part of her life,” he added, explaining that for two of her three children, they had warned her to take better of them.