The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

February 8, 2013

Mother's quest for leniency rejected by Northumberland County judge

By Marcia Moore
The Daily Item

WASHINGTON — SUNBURY — A Northumberland County judge will not lessen the 12- to 60-month state prison sentence he imposed against the mother of an infant who died from hyperthermia after being left alone for hours in a hot room in October 2010.

In a seven-page order issued Thursday, Judge Charles H. Saylor outlined his decision for upholding the prison term he gave Heidi S. Yocum, 30, of Lewisburg, who pleaded guilty to misdemeanor endangering the welfare of children for her role in the Oct. 15, 2010, death of her 1-year-old daughter, Aneela Loner.

“The consequences of (Yocum’s) failure to follow any normal maternal instinct on the day and evening in question resulted in a tragic outcome for a helpless 1-year-old child,” Saylor wrote.

Aneela was left in the care of her father, Lopaka Loner, and maternal grandmother, Bertha M. Dreese, of Selinsgrove, the day before she was found dead in her crib. Authorities said she was left alone for nearly a full day in a room with a space heater that elevated the temperature to nearly 100 degrees Fahrenheit without anyone checking on her.

Loner, 29, pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges of endangering the welfare of children and recklessly endangering another person and was sentenced in November by President Judge Robert B. Sacavage to 11½ to 23 months in Northumberland County Prison.

Dreese has pleaded no contest to involuntary manslaughter and is awaiting sentencing.

Yocum had expected to receive probation in exchange for her plea when she appeared before Saylor last month.

In a post-sentence motion to vacate Yocum’s prison term, defense attorney Edward “E.J.” Rymsza argued that she “received nothing in return for her plea” and willingness to cooperate with authorities despite a recommendation for probation by the county probation department.

Saylor said Yocum did benefit from the plea deal by avoiding an even stiffer penalty, which could have been as long as 10 years in prison.

He said a lesser sentence wasn’t justified considering the child’s death and Yocum’s past drug abuse and criminal history, which included the theft of a purse from a church pew.

“This court followed the general guidelines as set forth in the Sentencing Code,” he said, adding that he was “particularly mindful... of the gravity of the offense as it relates to the impact on the community, and particularly the impact on this baby.”

The court also denied Yocum’s request to withdraw the guilty plea and to be released on bail pending post-sentence appeals.