Judge delays ruling on Merrimack mom's request for shorter prison sentenceBy KIMBERLY HOUGHTON
Union Leader Correspondent
May 30. 2014 7:57PM
NASHUA — A local judge will wait six months to decide whether the prison sentence should be reduced for a Merrimack mother serving time for the negligent drowning death of her baby.
Melissa Gutierrez, 29, is currently serving 5-10 years in prison for the death of her 8-month-old son, Christian N’Tapalis, who drowned in a bathtub in 2011. Last June, she pleaded guilty to negligent homicide in the case, at which time the court ruled Gutierrez could potentially have one year of her sentence suspended if she completes various parenting, substance abuse, wellness and life skills courses. According to court documents, Gutierrez has completed all of the relevant programs during her first year in prison.
“As such, she requests that the court suspend the final year of her sentence. Doing so now will make her eligible for halfway house services and, potentially, release on home confinement,” Attorney Anthony Sculimbrene writes in court records on file at the Hillsborough County Superior Court.
Given Gutierrez’s efforts toward rehabilitation, Sculimbrene said his client is hopeful that the court may recommend release on home confinement.
“She has two other children, and she hopes to re-enter their lives,” said Sculimbrene. “Additionally, she has started correspondence courses to further her education, and being out (of prison) would make her eligible for different and better financial aid packages.”
David Tencza, assistant Hillsborough County attorney, argues that the request to suspend Gutierrez’s sentence is premature, and should be addressed only after she has served four years in prison.
Suspending the sentence now would give her less of an incentive to behave or continue with treatment for the next couple of years, Tencza wrote in court documents, requesting that the court wait to consider the one year suspension until November 2016.
Dr. Daniel Potenza, the psychiatric medical director for the state Department of Corrections, recently testified that Gutierrez has completed the Mothers Connecting with Children parenting class, the Building Bridges Program and the Wellness Block Therapeutic Programs.
“It is clear from Dr. Potenza’s testimony that Ms. Gutierrez has been compliant with her treatment, educational and skills-based training programs at the prison.
“The court is impressed with the progress she is currently making in developing her life skills,” wrote Judge Charles Temple in his May 19 ruling.
However, Temple stated that her progress is still in its initial stages. He noted that Gutierrez obtained nine disciplinary infractions during an eight month time span while in prison.
“In the court’s view, the significant progress made by Ms. Gutierrez is tempered by the multiple disciplinary infractions. The court needs to see additional progress by Ms. Gutierrez without disciplinary infractions,” wrote Temple, who deferred ruling on the request for at least six months. Temple will address the matter after Nov. 12, according to court records. Court documents indicate that Gutierrez may have fallen asleep on the couch while water overflowed the bathtub where her two children played during the summer of 2011, eventually flooding the bathroom and causing water to leak through to the basement ceiling. While the youngest child drowned in the tub, her older son, James Blackington III, survived. He was 2-years-old at the time of the incident.
Previously, a medical expert testified in court that Gutierrez has led a life surrounded by drug addiction, noting she previously had an addiction to crack cocaine, prostituted herself and was the victim of a gang rape.
When Gutierrez was out on bail following the drowning of her baby, she was arrested three times before her bail was revoked, charged in separate incidents for allegedly stealing jeans from a retail store, possession of a controlled drug, taking unpaid merchandise from a pharmacy and operating after suspension.