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Pulaski father charged with neglect pleads not guilty

WINAMAC, Ind. - In an unexpected turn of events for everyone in the Pulaski County Circuit Court Tuesday, 27-year-old Christopher Short, charged with neglect of a dependent, pleaded not guilty and asked for a jury trial.

Earlier this year, the other person charged with neglect, Patricia Meeks, did not show up for her sentencing hearing, pushing that date back as well.

Meeks and Short were arrested in December 2016 after deputies found his three-year-old daughter locked in a plywood box.

It's been almost a year and a half since that day.

“It’s frustration you know, and you can see it in everybody. Prosecutor’s frustrated, judge frustrated, DCS workers frustrated, police, everybody’s frustrated, because you want it to be done quickly, and it never is," said Pulaski County Sheriff Jeff Richwine.

Everyone thought Short would be walking into the courthouse Tuesday to take a guilty plea deal, but he decided to exercise his right to a jury trial and plead "not guilty."

The plea deal would have reduced his Neglect of a Dependent charge from a Level 5 Felony to a Level 6.

The wording differs slightly.

A Level 5 charge says the defendant "did knowingly cruelly confine said dependent," whereas a Level 6 says the defendant "plac[ed] said dependent in a situation that endangered the dependent's life or health."

The lesser charge carries a sentence of six months to two-and-a-half years.

The more serious Level 5 felony carries a sentence of one to six years, with the presumptive sentence being three.

“Of course, I feel like this guy’s guilty or I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing, so the more time he can get, the better I like it, so that’s probably a bright spot in this case if there is one," said Sheriff Richwine.

The sheriff says he doesn't think even six years would be justice for locking a three-year-old in a box.

"This whole process with kids in the court system, to me, is somewhere it seems to be broken," he said.

Patricia Meeks will face her sentencing hearing in April.

The six adults charged with Failure to Report will face a joint jury trial in May.

Christopher Short is in the process of dismissing his public defender for a private attorney, so his trial has yet to be scheduled.

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