Megan Martzen accepts plea deal in toddler's death

FRESNO, Calif.

Thursday morning, 22 year old Megan Martzen pleaded "no contest" to a felony charge of involuntary manslaughter and will now serve probation. This after her murder trial for the 2009 death of Ella VanLeeuwen ended in a hung jury last month.

Martzen broke out in tears outside of a Fresno County Superior courtroom after accepting the plea deal, allowing her to avoid a retrial and possible jail time.

"I just look forward to sharing my story with others so that this doesn't happen to anyone else in the future," said Martzen.

Ella died three years ago following an incident that occurred while under Martzen's care. During her murder trial last month, prosecutors argued Martzen beat Ella to death, but the defense insisted the toddler fell off the bed and prior injuries contributed to her death.

"A plea has been entered that really reflects accidental death and a series of accidents that occurred starting in the VanLeeuwen home and ending in Megan's home and the plea definitely reflects that," said defense attorney Jeff Hammerschmidt.

Martzen had at one time faced charges of second degree murder and child abuse, but in February, the jury came back deadlocked. Hammerschmidt said ten of the hung jurors believed another jury wouldn't be able to reach a unanimous decision and eight of the twelve believed Martzen didn't harm Ella.

At the time, prosecutors indicated they would retry Martzen for murder, but declined to comment on Thursday's plea deal until after sentencing. Hammerschmidt, however, wasn't quiet about the decision.

"I think it is the best resolution and the reason is, if we simply obtained a dismissal, at any point in the future (because there's no statute of limitations on the first two counts on the old complaint) this could have been filed against her at any time for the rest of her life," he said. "She would have that hanging over her head. This puts closure to it and the plea reflects that it was an accident."

ABC-30 Action News legal analyst Tony Capozzi said both sides would benefit from the change.

"This was a happy compromise between both sides," he said. "Clearly this was a tragedy and there's a loss of life, but it's very difficult to determine that cause of death. In this particular resolution the defendant is accepting responsibility for what happened and the district attorney is getting a conviction in this case. I think both sides got what they were looking for.

The VanLeeuwen's were present during the hearing, but didn't want to comment until Martzen is sentenced.

She's due back in court on April 30th. Because the charge is a felony, Capozzi said she could face up to three to five years of probation.

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