By Matt Ward
The lone survivor of a February 2011 house fire that killed three of her children and a family friend pleaded guilty to a single charge of felony child abuse and neglect on Monday.
Sharon Broadhead was in District Court to officially accept a plea deal made between her attorney and county prosecutors.
Broadhead was arrested by Nye County Sheriff’s detectives three days after her sons, 18-month-old Elliott Broadhead, 4-year-old Zachary Broadhead, 5-year-old Brandon Michael Smith and friend Crystal Smiley, 24, all perished after flames engulfed a home on Prospector Lane. She was charged with four counts of involuntary manslaughter and three counts of child abuse at the time.
Broadhead’s attorney, Tom Gibson, vowed to fight against what he characterized as inept police work on the part of the sheriff’s department.
A review of the case by the district attorney’s office later resulted in the lone charge against Broadhead.
Sources close to the case suggested that Gibson was ready to fight even that single charge until evidence surfaced of a relationship between one of Broadhead’s surviving daughters, a minor, and an adult male. Because Broadhead supposedly allowed the relationship to continue, it was seen as hurting her ability to defend herself against the child abuse allegation in court.
A copy of a plea agreement memorandum obtained by the Pahrump Valley Times supports that description of events leading up to Monday’s hearing.
The agreement gives Broadhead five years probation and the ability to have the charge dismissed if she completes probation with no violations. Normally, even defendants on probation get time for good behavior. She will get no such reduction. If she fails to complete probation for any reason, the state would charge her with a gross misdemeanor and recommend a term of one year in the county jail on one count of child abuse and neglect. The plea agreement suggests Broadhead could face the possibility of two to 20 years in prison if she were sentenced on the original category B felony. That is unlikely now, however.
In reference to her minor daughter, the plea memorandum states: “Lastly, as a result of this negotiation, the State will not pursue charges resulting from an arrest at her residence on Feb. 8 2012, where her 15-year-old daughter’s 19-or-20-year-old boyfriend was found hiding in her daughter’s bedroom dressed only in his underwear.”
Broadhead was somber in court. Dressed in black, she was accompanied by family members. The parents of her estranged husband sat in the back of the courtroom.
Judge Robert Lane asked Broadhead a series of questions, gauging whether she understood what she was pleading to and the consequences if she didn’t live up to her end of the bargain.
At one point he asked the defendant whether she had ever been treated for a mental illness, to which she said yes. Gibson interrupted and said that she suffered from anxiety and was recently diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Asked if she was lucid enough to continue the hearing, she told the judge she was fine.
“Are you pleading guilty to the fact that on or about February 9, 2011, here in Pahrump, Nye County there was an incident at your home involving the death of children and you are pleading guilty to child abuse because of that?” the judge asked.
“Yes your honor,” she replied, her voice cracking with emotion.
The hearing ended and a sentencing date was set for Aug. 20. The judge is expected to accept the state’s recommendation for probation then.
At that all concerned parties left without comment.
Asked to describe how Broadhead secured such a lenient deal after facing such a harsh arrest and more serious felony charges in the days following the fire, the county’s chief prosecutor, Kirk Vitto said the plea agreement spoke for itself.
Later, Vitto released a statement that read: “After a lengthy, detailed review of all reports and facts pertinent to the case, and speaking at length with various individuals, we came up with what we thought was a just, right, and reasonable resolution to a very tragic incident. There was obviously nothing we could do to bring back the lives of those lost. If that were possible, certainly the defendant would be at the top of the list of people wanting to see that done.
“Under the circumstances, the totality of the circumstances, taking everything into consideration, this was what we considered to be the best way to resolve a horrible, horrible incident happening within our community, and try to bring something positive out of something nightmarish.”