A 22-year-old Adairsville woman facing charges of second degree murder in connection with the death of her 4-month-old son last year was denied bond by Cherokee Judicial Circuit Judge Suzanne H. Smith in Bartow Superior Court Tuesday morning.
Destiney Diane Wheat was arrested by Adairsville Police Department (APD) officers last month and has been in custody at the Bartow County Jail since Feb. 23. She is currently facing one count of second degree murder, one count of cruelty to children and one count of possession of less than an ounce of marijuana.
According to APD investigators, officers were dispatched to Wheat’s residence at 210 North Main St. on Sept. 28, 2018, in response to a call of her son, Raylan James Wheat, not breathing.
APD investigator Sgt. Eric Burns was present in the courtroom for Tuesday morning’s bond motion hearing. He said that the responding officers “smelled the odor of burnt marijuana” emanating from the home.
The infant, who was described by APD officers as having a shallow heartbeat, was then taken to Cartersville Medical Center, where shortly thereafter the child was pronounced dead.
While the infant was still at the hospital, Burns said a deputy executed a search warrant of the residence and processed the scene.
“I’m not sure the exact words to describe it,” Burns said. He recalled dirty diapers on the bedroom floor, dirty dishes in the kitchen and cockroaches, bags of trash and discarded takeout containers strewn throughout the house.
An APD press release indicates investigators also saw “clues to illegal drug usage” in the home and that Division of Family and Children Services (DFCS) were notified about the living conditions within the residence.
Burns said there were no other children in the home, and that although Wheat had prior involvement with DFCS services to some extent, he was not aware of the child, at any point, being removed from the home.
During an investigation which included a forensic autopsy by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation’s state crime lab and more than 3,000 pages of medical records, APD officials stated that Wheat was not administering oxygen “as prescribed by doctors” to her child, who was born premature and suffered from several illnesses. They also allege that a week before her son’s death, Wheat checked her son out of a hospital, despite medical staff advising her not to.
The investigation, Burns said, revealed troubling findings about the oxygen equipment in the home.
“They had been tampered with,” he said in Bartow Superior Court. “The date was off and had not been used in 17 days."
Public defender Kearston Gill — without mentioning a specific monetary amount — argued that the defendant deserved bond.
“This is a very unfortunate situation and I know it’s a serious charge,” she said, “but based on the conditions of bond, she’s not a flight risk, she does reside here, she doesn’t have any previous criminal history.”
If released from custody, Gill said Wheat would reside in Adairsville while awaiting trial or her next date in court.
Cherokee Judicial Circuit District Attorney Rosemary Greene said prosecutors are still awaiting more findings from the GBI. She told Judge Smith she does not expect the case to go before a grand jury within 30 days, and that the case may not be ready to do so within the next 60 days.
Under Georgia law, all defendants held in pre-trial detention have the right to have their case presented to a grand jury within 90 days of his or her initial arrest; if no indictment is made within that 90-day window, the defendant is legally entitled to bond.
Smith asked both Gill and Greene to keep her informed of the status of the case as that 90-day cutoff approaches.
“If we get close to that time,” she said, “I’ll certainly reconsider at that time.”