Woman Sentenced To Probation In Baby Death

   The Orofino Woman who left her step-grandson in a hot car will not spend any time behind bars.

   15-month old Patrick Graber, Jr. died while in that car. 33-year old Rita Johnston pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter in December.

   Monday a judge sentenced Johnston to three years probation, not jail.

   Monday’s sentencing came down to intent. Did Rita Johnston intentionally leave her step-grandson, baby Patrick Graber, Jr. in a car that hot summer day? Judge John Bradbury says she didn’t.

   With her husband by her side, Rita Johnston quickly walked into court, and sat down, waiting to be sentenced.

   Behind her, rows of grieving family and friends. It’s been a tough nine months.

   “She feels terrible about what happened,” said public defender John Hathaway. “She really does. Many times when I’ve talked to her she’ll just start to cry.”

   On the Fourth of July, Johnston left 15-month old Patrick Graber, Jr. in her car for five hours while she took a nap at a friend’s house. It was 95 degrees that day, and much hotter inside the car.

   By the time police arrived, baby Patrick was dead. Johnston says she forgot Patrick was in the car.

   “It’s an accident. I know people like to say accidents don’t happen but they do,” Hathaway said.

   That makes it even harder for Patrick’s father to accept his only son is gone.

   “You’ve changed the life of so many people,” Patrick Graber, Sr. said. “To start, you changed the life of a little girl who will never have a brother.”

   Before Judge Bradbury read his sentence, Johnston asked for forgiveness.

   “I’m very deeply concerned that people should understand this was an accident,” Johnston said.

   Because Johnston has no criminal history, and did not intend to kill baby Patrick, Judge Bradbury sentenced Johnston to three years probation. He added there is nothing he can do to make her feel any worse.

   “And I don’t think there is anything I can do to you that is going to make the parents or grandparents feel better,” Bradbury said.

   Graber says the decision is disappointing. It brings no closure, baby Patrick would’ve turned two last week.

   “Try to move on, try to get past this the best we can,” Graber said.

   On top of three years probation, Johnston will serve 100 hours community service and three months on house arrest.