Local News

Woman Charged With Child Abuse Responds Through Her Attorney

Posted November 23, 2004 4:57 a.m. EST

— The attorney of a woman charged with misdemeanor child abuse of an autistic child spoke out Tuesday.

Melinda Whitley's lawyer said Whitley is shocked about the charges and about the allegations coming from parents.

Whitley decided to respond, through her attorney, after WRAL's story aired Monday night.

Waverly Cochran, 7, was injured in school last year and it has galvanized a group of parents who say their kids weren't safe in Whitley's class. The injury also led to criminal charges.

"If every person in whose presence or company an autistic child is injured him or herself was charged with a crime, there just wouldn't be enough room in jail to keep them," said Brad Bannon, Whitley's attorney.

Bannon, says even after the incident last year, Waverly Cochran's parents kept the girl in his client's care.

"The child remained in Ms. Whitley's classroom," Bannon said. "The child's parents enrolled her in Ms. Whitley's summer school class that summer, allowing her to go out to lunch with Ms. Whitley, and inquired of Ms. Whitley toward the end of the school year about whether they might be able to move their child to the new school that Ms. Whitley was going to teach in."

The school system is now responding to the issue of whether Whitley's classroom was safe.

"My conversation today is all about sending a message to the parents that we heard you," said Bill McNeal, school superintendent. "And we not only have responded we continue to respond because it is our job to ensure classrooms are safe, that we're teaching students appropriately and we take that responsibility very seriously."

Bannon says if Whitley is found not guilty, she plans to go back to teaching autistic children.