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Seattle Times, Published May 01 2012

Washington woman is accused of putting bleach in daughter's eyes

SEATTLE - A Washington woman was charged Monday with first-degree child assault after authorities said she repeatedly put bleach into the eyes of her then-14-month-old daughter, potentially blinding her.

Jennifer Lynn Mothershead, 29, of Buckley was booked into the Pierce County Jail on Friday. She is being held in lieu of $150,000 bail.

Doctors at Seattle's Harborview Medical Center and Seattle Children's hospital became suspicious after the alleged victim was airlifted to Harborview on May 12, 2011. The child was hospitalized for a brain injury, and doctors found “bruising and an eye infection that was concerning,” Pierce County Deputy Prosecutor Grant Blinn wrote in charging documents.

The girl might be permanently blinded, according to the documents.

She was removed from her mother's custody after the hospital visit last year, Blinn said. Now 2 years old, she lives with her father. The couple are separated, authorities said.

During a court hearing Monday, Mothershead pleaded not guilty to the charge. A judge forbid her from having contact with the child or other minors, Blinn said.

Mothershead has another young child, also not in her care; custody of that child is being hammered out in family court, authorities said.

When asked last year about the eye infection, Mothershead said the girl's eyes had been swollen shut for about four weeks and that the child slept almost 22 hours each day, according to charges. She believed the girl had “a corneal abrasion” caused by playing in a barn.

Mothershead told investigators she had antibiotics and eye drops for the girl and that the child fought her when she put them in her eyes, so much so that she needed to have her “swaddled,” prosecutors said.

When hospital staff opened the medications, a “noxious odor filled the room” and staff complained of burning eyes and mild nausea, charges said. The case detective smelled the medication and noticed a strong chemical odor, and her eyes began watering.

A laboratory test revealed bleach in the drops, charges said.

Dr. Avery Weiss of Seattle Children's hospital reviewed the case and determined that vision loss in the child's right eye is permanent, and concluded it would be years before the long-term damage could be fully assessed, prosecutors said.

Blinn, the prosecutor, said it took almost a year to file charges because of the need for laboratory work and an investigation by the Pierce County Sheriff's Department.

“The motive isn't 100 percent clear yet. Detectives are continuing to investigate,” Blinn said.