Louvenia Johnson thegrio.com
(Photo: Tony Giberson/[email protected])

A Pensacola, FL daycare worker was found responsible for the death of a toddler who was left inside a deathly hot van and has been sentenced to less than a year in jail.

According to USA Today, 29-year-old Louvenia Johnson pleaded no contest in June to aggravated manslaughter of a child by culpable negligence, only days before her co-defendant, Cornel McGee, was acquitted during a separate trial.

On Friday, Judge Joel Boles sentenced Johnson to 11 months in jail, followed by 10 years of probation. Prosecutors sought a 13-year prison term.

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According to authorities, Cornel McGee, who was a driver at In His Arms Christian Academy in Pensacola, and Johnson, a teacher at the daycare — left 3-year-old Jai’Nier Barnes in the center’s van the morning of Aug. 18. Four hours passed before another driver found the child in distress inside the vehicle. Employees performed CPR and the baby was taken to the nearest hospital but died soon after of hyperthermia, the report states.

“I haven’t spoken to (Jai’Nier’s family) since this, but if I could, I would tell them truly, truly I am sorry. If there was anything I could do to bring her back, I promise you I would,” McGee said in an exclusive post-trial interview with the News Journal. The jury in his trial deliberated for less than an hour before returning a not guilty verdict late last month, USA Today reported.

“I was scared to go to trial, I was getting ready to tell them I was going to plea — I was — but I thought about it, and I thought, ‘I’m not guilty, and I’m not going to allow anybody to make me feel like I’m guilty,'” McGee said. “I’m already hating myself because this has taken place, but then to say I’m guilty of aggravated manslaughter is like you telling me I purposely, intentionally left this child in a van, and that wasn’t the case.”

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The state agreed that the case is the result of a tragic accident and prosecutor Trey Myers noted that Jai’Nier lost her life because Johnson made the mistake of not physically checking the back of the van to ensure no children were left behind, as state regulation mandate.

Both Johnson and McGee signed transportation logs saying Jai’Nier had been taken off the van but McGee explained that on the day of the tragedy, Johnson got distracted during roll call and when she put Jai’Nier down after saying her name, the child fell asleep and no one noticed until it was too late.

“This is just a terrible tragedy and I don’t know how you rectify that,” said Johnson’s attorney, Paul Hamlin, after the verdict on Friday. He also doesn’t believe it’s fair that his client be is being punished while her co-defendant isn’t.

By state regulations, McGee was also responsible for physically checking the back of the van to ensure no children were left behind.