Duncan father celebrates signing of child neglect law

Duncan_A Duncan man's relentless fight to be sure his little girl didn't die in vain is over.

"I want people to see that we didn't give up, we knew something wasn't right, we knew it wasn't fair to Letha," said Letha's father, John Slate.

Tuesday, Oklahoma Governor Brad Henry signed the "Letha Kay Louise Slate" law.

She's the 6-month-old girl who drowned in the bathtub while her mother napped.

Her mother wasn't charged with murder because of the wording in the child neglect statute.

Ever since, John Slate has been on a mission to change it. And Tuesday, he succeeded.

In order to be found guilty of child neglect, you have to fail to adequately provide food, clothing, shelter, medical attention


supervision, meaning a caretaker has to neglect the child in all five areas.

Now, after weeks of Slate's work with state lawmakers, the law states a caretaker can be found guilty in just one aspect of neglect.  "I really believe, truly in my heart, that this bill is why Letha died," Slate said. "I think she had to die so other kids could be protected and this could happen."

It's been a year since the accident -- when Letha's mother says she left the baby in the bathtub and took a nap.

"I know that she'll have to live every single day for the rest of her life thinking about what happened to Letha," Slate said. "And I know that it was an accident that she fell asleep. But it was a conscious decision to walk out of that bathroom."

The District Attorney wanted to charge Letha's mother with murder, But the court agreed with the defense attorney that the wording in the statute excluded her.

"Basically what the judge said in this case is that you can beat your child, you can starve them, you can throw them out in the cold ... but if you take them to the doctor later, you aren't guilty of child neglect in the state of Oklahoma because you haven't met all five of those criteria," Slate said.

So Letha's mother was charged with second-degree manslaughter instead.

"I could not believe it. I just could not believe it," Slate said. "I felt like the message was sent that -- you know, her mother received 4 years in prison -- so Letha's life was only worth four years. It just didn't seem right."

It was all because of the word "and."

But Tuesday, Slate has successfully changed the statute to replace the word "and" with the word "or."

"Our governor today stood up and said 'you know what, our kids are important, we're going to protect them, and we're going to do whatever it takes to protect them.'" Slate said.

And while Slate celebrated his victory Tuesday, he was also in the hospital with his new wife -- celebrating the birth of his son Landon, who has the same initials as Letha.

"Someday when my son grows up, you know he never got the opportunity to meet his sister," Slate said. "But he will have the opportunity to learn about the legacy that his sister has left and the difference that she's made."

And he says the biggest victory he has had in this war, is knowing that so many more lost children will now have justice.

"The nearest thing to heaven, is a child," Slate said. "We have to protect them."

He says he will now start taking Letha's Law to other states in the hope that her name will become a national synonym for child protection.