Commonwealth v. Lisa Michelle Hylton
Pulaski County Circuit Court
Case Numbers CR10-117 and CR10-118
Jury Tried by K. Mike Fleenor, Jr. and Dina M. Branco
Felony Murder and Abuse and Neglect of a Child, Serving 20 years. First time in Virginia the crime of abusing a child used to convict of felony murder
The case against Lisa Michelle Hylton was unique and tragic. As a drug addict Lisa Hylton was constantly trying to find substances. Hylton was the mother of two children, a teenager and a small 3 year old son named Trevor. She had recently been to Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court in Pulaski where a Judge had ordered her to stop using drugs and refrain from any further acts of neglect or abuse of her children.
However, in September of 2009, she purchased methadone from a drug dealer. Although methadone is commonly used as a controversial form of treatment to “wean” addicts off of opiates, methadone itself is a schedule II drug and commonly abused as well. The methadone Hylton purchased had been given out at a Methadone Clinic in Galax, Virginia. It was in liquid form.
Upon her arrival home with her purchase, Hylton left the bottle on the kitchen counter and went to a bedroom to complain to her boyfriend that she had been “shorted” by the dealer – that he had sold her a quantity less than she had expected. It was during this time that her 3 year old son drank the methadone. Hylton discovered that he drank it within a few minutes but refused, despite the urging of her father, teenage son and neighbor, to take Trevor to the hospital. Instead she simply watched him and thought he would be all right if he “slept it off.” Trevor had ingested the methadone at approximately noon that day. He slept that afternoon and into the night. There was evidence that Hylton continued to take other drugs and around midnight a friend stopped by and Hylton, her boyfriend and the friend smoked crack cocaine. Hylton, her boyfriend and Trevor then went to bed.
In the early morning hours, Hylton told police officers that she awoke to find Trevor not breathing. She called 911 and the officer that responded didn’t wait for an ambulance. He immediately drove Trevor to Pulaski Community Hospital where doctors and nurses attempted for over an hour to revive the young boy. At trial Commonwealth’s Attorney Mike Fleenor called one of the nurses who testified that ordinarily it is a problem keeping parents out of the ER when they are trying to revive a child. In this case, Lisa Hylton said she was going outside to smoke, which she did.
Because of what law enforcement and the office of the Commonwealth’s Attorney considered to be outrageous conduct on the part of Lisa Hylton, Fleenor presented an indictment to the Grand Jury for Felony Murder. At the time, there were no cases in Virginia where a Felony Murder conviction had been obtained based on the underlying felony of Child Abuse or Neglect. As an alternative, Fleenor drafted the indictment to allow the jury to also consider the illegal possession of a Schedule II drug to likewise be the underlying Felony to support a Murder conviction.
After a lengthy jury trial, a jury convicted Lisa Hylton of Felony Murder and Abuse and Neglect of a Child. She was sentenced to 20 years in the state penitentiary.
Southwest Times trial 1 http://www.southwesttimes.com/2010/07/archive-4891/
Southwest Times trial http://www.southwesttimes.com/2010/07/archive-4899/
Roanoke Times trial 1 http://ww2.roanoke.com/news/nrv/wb/252296
Roanoke Times trial 2 http://ww2.roanoke.com/news/roanoke/wb/252444
Roanoke Times trial 3 http://ww2.roanoke.com/news/nrv/wb/272062/
Roanoke Times appeal http://ww2.roanoke.com/news/nrv/wb/297513/
This case sparked significant interest in legal circles across the state as it was a case of first impression by the Virginia Court of Appeals and the Virginia Supreme Court. After several months both courts held, for the first time, that the illegal and felonious possession of drugs can act as the malice element to support a conviction of Felony Murder.
Virginia Court of Appeals opinion http://va.findacase.com/research/wfrmDocViewer.aspx/xq/fac.20120410_0000119.VA.htm/qx