Bennett case sets precedent: substance abuse doesn’t excuse child neglect

Local News

BECKLEY, WV (WVNS) — Pictures of rotten food and soiled milk surrounding a bedroom, and dirty finger nails and severe diaper rash on Gracelynn Bennett were shown during the trial of Ariel Bennett.

Kristen Keller, Prosecuting Attorney, worried about how the Bennetts treated their kids.

“It’s as if babies and children are paper towels. You make them, you throw them away,” Keller said.

A jury found Ariel guilty on all three charges: one count of child neglect resulting in death, and two counts of child neglect. The defense used Bennett’s past drug addiction and alcoholism in their arguments. But Keller said this verdict will set the precedent because that defense will not work anymore.

“If you’re an adult with no children and no dogs because this would be animal abuse, then go for it. But people need to understand they cannot commit these acts and be so utterly irresponsible as parents, over helpless little children for whom they have responsibility and then say don’t blame me,” Keller said.

Child Protective Services is swamped, according to Keller, with parents who use and abuse drugs and alcohol. But when the neglect gets to a point of risking injury, or in this case, causing death, Keller said she has to take action.

“Moms, they don’t need the law to tell them that. God already has told you that your duty is to protect your little ones. It’s only people that are so self absorbed that they don’t take god’s advice. That’s when the law steps in,” Keller said.

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