CHARLESTON -- A woman first told police she left her son in others' care but later admitted leaving him alone for part of three days while she spent time with friends.
Conditions at Savannah M. Weiss' home were "a mixture of trash, spoiled food and animal feces" when the boy was found dead there earlier this month.
That was the account from police testimony Monday during a hearing at which the 22-year-old woman was ordered to stand trial on first-degree murder charges. Weiss' attorney entered a not-guilty plea on her behalf.
Charleston police Detective Joel Shute testified about the investigation that followed after Weiss' 2-year-old son was found dead at her residence at 1052 First St. on the morning of Dec. 4.
During questioning by Coles County State's Attorney Brian Bower, Shute said the squalid conditions in the home included the bathroom, where two "very skinny dogs" were found in a kennel, as well as the child's room and elsewhere.
The boy, referred to during the hearing and in court records only by the initials "MJE," was found inside a portable playpen that was also "caked and layered" with old food, the detective said.
On the day the child's death was discovered, Weiss told police she left him in the care of others while she was at work and at Sarah Bush Lincoln Health Center for her own health issue on Dec. 1 and 2, Shute said.
However, he continued, Weiss was questioned again after an autopsy showed the boy's cause of death as dehydration, starvation or a combination of the two.
Shute said the investigation also revealed that Weiss did go to work and to the hospital but was also away from home other times during those days.
During the second interview, Weiss said she was gone from the home from about 10 a.m. on Dec. 1 and returned about 6 p.m. Dec. 3, admitting that she left the boy unattended in the playpen.
Weiss said she spent the nights of Dec. 1 and 2 plus all day on Dec. 2 with friends, Shute testified. She said during that time she bought food for her and the others at Jimmy John's, about six blocks from her home, he said.
When Weiss did return home on the evening of Dec. 3, she looked into the boy's room and saw him looking at a TV but didn't check more closely, Shute also said.
Weiss also told police that, before she left, she put a small hole in the lid of a bottle of vitamin water and left it in the playpen while she was gone but police never found the bottle, Shute said.
She also said she put two peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, a bowl of cereal and a bowl of chicken strips in the playpen, the detective continued. Police did find chicken strips in a bowl but the food debris in the playpen made it impossible to determine if the other food had been there, he added.
Weiss' mother, Mildred Moore, came by the residence the following morning and Weiss informed her that the boy was dead, Shute said. Moore said Weiss didn't want to notify police, telling her she would "go to prison," and Moore eventually called 911, he said.
Shute also said Weiss said she knew it wasn't right to leave the child alone, though she'd done it before with no harm to the boy.
Circuit Judge Brien O'Brien then ruled that Shute's testimony indicated that a crime likely took place and ordered the case to continue. Public Defender Anthony Ortega then entered the not-guilty plea.
Ortega said he didn't want make a request to reduce Weiss' bond but might file such a motion later. O'Brien scheduled a hearing for Jan. 8 to check the status of the case.
Weiss remains jailed with her bond set at a level that would require $150,000 to be posted for release.
The charges against her accuse her of failing to provide food, water and sanitary conditions for the boy, leading to his death by dehydration or starvation.
The charges allege that Weiss knew or should have known that created a "strong possibility" of death or great harm to the boy. She could receive life in prison if convicted.