Jurors have returned a not guilty verdict on all counts in the murder trial of daycare owner Janna Thompson.
Thompson had been charged with two counts of second-degree murder and two counts of second-degree cruelty to children in the death of 3-year-old Max Stevens.
The child asphyxiated on a piece of twine in the backyard of the daycare while he was unsupervised on July 8, 2014, according to prosecutors.
"He didn't deserve this. He deserved a long, happy life," Assistant District Attorney Pete Johnson said in his closing arguments. "Because of Janna Thompson, Max Stephens is dead."
"Janna Thompson was trusted to take care of children for a living. Max Stephens walked to her home and left dead because of her willful, wanton, and reckless actions," Johnson argued.
Defense attorney John Garland argued, "The death of Max Stephens was a horrible tragedy."
"This case is not about whether she was perfect, or could have done better," Garland said in his closing arguments. "Even if you find she was negligent, that is not enough to convict her. Only if you find her criminally negligent is she guilty of murder."
It was the first trial to test the state's new murder statute making a child's death due to neglect a second-degree murder rather than involuntary manslaughter.
The jury began deliberations on Friday afternoon, and deliberated for about four hours before returning the not guilty verdict just after 5 p.m.
After reading the not guilty verdict, Judge Henry M. Newkirk read a statement from the jury saying, "We the jury are disappointed and frustrated by the charged brought by the state. While we found the defendant negligent in leaving the children unattended, we cannot find her guilty of criminal negligence as required by the charges."
Prosecutors responded by reminding the jurors that the judge was the one who set the charges and stated that they were also disappointed.
Thompson responded to the verdict with tears and hugs from her team.
"She has always grieved deeply because she helped raise this child," Garland said of his client. "She committed no crime. She was absolutely innocent..the verdict was correct."