In an east Alabama jail cell, Latoni Daniel awaits the birth of her child and a trial that could end with a jury sentencing the 26-year-old to die.
Neither Daniel, her family, nor her attorneys have any idea what will happen after she gives birth and finally stands trial on a capital murder charge. They are also struggling to find answers to the mysterious circumstances surrounding her pregnancy, her attorney said.
Daniel was arrested December 5, 2017 in the robbery and fatal shooting of 87-year-old Thomas Virgil Chandler. Daniel is charged along with her 28-year-old now-former boyfriend LaDaniel Tuck. While he, too, awaits trial, Tuck is in an Alabama prison serving a 20-year sentence for a parole violation in a 2010 robbery case.
Court records say Daniel was the getaway driver — not the shooter — in the slaying of Chandler.
If convicted of capital murder, she would face either the death penalty or life in prison without the possibility of parole. It’s unclear when the case could go to trial.
Daniel has requested a judge grant her bail — which she possibly could not afford — to stay with her family and receive private prenatal care. No ruling has been issued.
“We’re hoping someone from some state or county agency will reach out to us or to our client,” said Mickey McDermott, a civil attorney representing Daniel. “We have no idea what’s going to happen.”
And while Daniel’s future is shrouded in uncertainty, those representing her say they are struggling to unearth the circumstances of the conception of her soon-to-be-born child.
McDermott said he believes Daniel was raped in the Coosa County jail, though he said she has no memory of a sexual encounter. After her pregnancy was revealed, Daniel was transferred to the nearby Talladega County jail.
‘It is being investigated’
McDermott said Daniel has no memory of a sexual encounter in jail. He said it could have happened while she was taking sedatives to treat a seizure disorder. But no matter who is the father of the child, the attorney said, Daniel “cannot consent to sexual contact while she is in custody.”
In Alabama, it’s illegal for any jail employee to have sexual contact with an inmate, and consent isn’t a defense. There’s no law preventing inmates from having sex with one another, as long as it’s consensual. McDermott said Daniel hasn’t been allowed to have visitors.
McDermott said he’s concerned no one is investigating the circumstances of the pregnancy. He said his letters to local and state law enforcement have gone unanswered.
“It is being investigated,” said Jeff Willis, district attorney for Alabama’s 40th Circuit, which includes Coosa and Clay counties.
Citing the ongoing investigation, Willis declined to answer questions about the case when he spoke to AL.com at his office in Ashland, a small town in east Alabama.
“You’ve got to remember, we’re investigating an 87-year-old killed in cold blood,” Willis said, “and the other situation with the pregnancy.”
It’s unclear whether any other local or state agencies are investigating.
Coosa County Sheriff Michael Howell said he had “no comment” when approached by AL.com at the Triple R Café in Rockford. The café, Rockford’s only restaurant, is a couple of blocks from the sheriff’s office.
Just down the street at the Coosa County Courthouse, Bridget Graham said the County Commission had “no comment.” Graham, the county administrator, said she hasn’t seen a letter from Daniel’s attorney.
McDermott provided a copy of the letter to AL.com. It was addressed to county and state officials, including the Coosa County Commission.
A spokesman for Alabama Attorney General State Marshal declined to comment.
‘We want to find a father for child support’
McDermott is skeptical about the D.A.’s ongoing investigation. He said neither Daniel nor any of her attorneys have been questioned about the pregnancy, and the authorities haven’t requested any records from him.
“Here we are after the story has broke,” McDermott said. “If it’s an ongoing investigation, we’re glad. We want to find a father for child support.”
Medical staff from a private company are monitoring Daniel each day and providing prenatal care at the Talladega County jail, a spokesman said. Daniel will be taken to a hospital to give birth, said Chief Deputy Josh Tubbs of the Talladega County Sheriff’s Office. Daniel’s baby is due this month.
“We monitor that closely,” Tubbs said.
Citing security concerns, Tubbs declined to say at which hospital Daniel will be taken to give birth.
The nearest hospital with a labor and delivery ward is Coosa Valley Medical Center, according to records from the Alabama Department of Public Health. The hospital is in Sylacauga, about 20 miles from the jail.
Coosa Valley Medical is also about 20 miles from the Coosa County jail, where Daniel was initially housed and where her attorney says she got pregnant.
The Coosa County jail in the tiny town of Rockford is substantially smaller than the Talladega County jail where Daniel is presently housed. As of this week, fewer than 40 inmates were in Coosa County lockup, while nearly 200 people were jailed in Talladega. The overwhelmingly majority of the inmates in both jails are men.
‘A system designed by men, for men’
While a Coosa County Circuit Judge is considering whether to set bail for Daniel, McDermott is concerned about the prenatal care his client is getting while she’s jailed.
“I have great concerns that the lack of prenatal care may have endangered my client or her future child,” McDermott said.
“She has been berated for requesting to go to doctor’s appointments.” The attorney said Daniel’s attendance at doctor appointments — which is to be facilitated by the county — has been “hit and miss.”
McDermott said family members have agreed to take care of Daniel’s baby while she is incarcerated. Although McDermott said he’s notified the Department of Human Resources and sheriff in Coosa County, he said he hasn’t heard back.
“They won’t contact us,” he said. “They have alerted us of no plan and responded to us in no way shape, form or fashion.”
The Alabama Prison Birth Project, a nonprofit that provides support for pregnant women and mothers in the state’s prison system, has offered its services to Daniel. Executive Director Ashley Lovell said she tried to contact officials at the Talladega County jail to offer resources and support — free of charge — but hasn’t received a response.
“I’m very concerned about her,” Lovell said. “I’m hoping our organization can find a way to help.”
The organization contracts with doulas — or birthing assistants — to help pregnant women at Tutwiler, Alabama’s prison for women. The doulas provide education and support, bring healthy meals and go to the hospital when it’s time for the birth. After the baby is born and the mother returns to prison, Lovell said, the organization provides post-partum and breast-feeding support.
The organization currently works only with the Alabama prison system — not individual county jails, where the quality of health care can vary wildly depending on local resources, Lovell said. The goal is to expand into helping with pregnant women in county jails, she said.
It’s unclear whether the jails in all 67 Alabama counties have individual policies for how to treat pregnant inmates. It’s unclear how many pregnant women are jailed around the state.
“This woman hasn’t been convicted,” Lovell said. “If people look really deep inside themselves, we are talking about two human beings here.
“Our criminal justice system isn’t set up for this,” she added. “We are putting women — and their babies — in a system designed by men, for men. More and more women are being incarcerated.”
© 2019 Alabama Media Group, Birmingham
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