PULASKI CO., Va. (WDBJ7) A Pulaski County judge decided the fate of Ashley White on Tuesday.
Ashley White walks into the Pulaski County Courthouse on Tuesday, July 12, 2016.
White is the mother of Noah Thomas, the 5-year-old who drowned in a septic tank on March 22, 2015.
White will serve one year and 11 months on three counts of felony child abuse and neglect. She was originally charged with felony murder, but the charge was lowered. She will get credit for time served and will be released in November.
Paul Thomas, the boy's father, has already been released. Thomas was in the courtroom on Tuesday.
Witnesses on Tuesday cast White, who was emotional throughout the sentencing, as an imperfect but loving mother to Noah and her daughter. Her daughter, 6-months-old at the time of Noah's death, is now two. White has not seen her since she was arrested.
A doctor testified that while White was pregnant with her daughter, she was in a voluntary treatment program for addicted women.
The first time she was drug tested, the results were positive for marijuana. She was tested a total of two dozen times, according to a social worker who also testified. None of the other tests came back positive for marijuana. A sticking point in her earlier trial was the fact that marijuana was found at her home, and was within reach of a child. Marijuana plants were also found in their daughter's bedroom closet the day that Noah went missing.
White said she was addicted to opiates and was taking suboxone, which she was getting off the streets. Suboxone helps with opiate withdrawal symptoms. White was also addicted to cigarettes, and was getting help quitting. The doctor said she believed White was successful in quitting smoking while pregnant.
Her daughter has respiratory issues and suffered from neonatal abstinence syndrome when she was born.
White's doctor testified that a pregnant woman experiencing withdrawal is often worse for an unborn child than the addiction itself. White was not weaned from the drug because of a high rate of relapse and concern for the effect that withdrawal would have on the child. According to her doctor, White willingly participated in this program and did everything she was advised to do.
A social worker testified that she met with White once a week for 10 weeks. Substance abuse was a focus of their hour-long meetings.
The social worker testified that White expressed happiness about getting treatment so she could provide Noah with better care.
White told the social worker that outside of her boyfriend Paul Thomas, she didn’t have much of a support system.
After her second child was born, White began waiting tables at a restaurant.
The social worker told the judge that White "adored" Noah and talked about him proudly at every meeting. She also stated that she felt White was making an effort to be an effective and positive parent.
The social worker testified that White had been isolated for a significant amount of time while in jail and is fearful about her recovery when she is released.
"She's a prisoner of her own mind," the social worker told the judge, referring to White's feelings of guilt and remorse.
White, 32, did not communicate with her social worker while Noah was missing, but the social worker said she did not find that unusual.
White's friend of over 20 years also testified. They have worked with each other at times and often celebrated their children's milestones together.
Her friend said White loved to talk about Noah and would gush at every developmental milestone, such as his first steps. Her friend gave Noah his first haircut. At this, both the friend and White burst into tears.
When Noah went missing, her friend came to the couple's home and stayed during the search.
"She was devastated," the friend said. "She just wanted to find him."
White has been in contact with her friend since the arrest. Her friend said that White doesn't know how she will move on from Noah's death, but that she has to for her daughter. White has expressed great interest in seeing her daughter again.
A church worker who frequently visits inmates said that White is not only grieving the loss of her son, but also the inability to see her daughter. White's mother died while she was in jail, and it was the church worker's understanding that White was not able to attend the services.
"It's obvious to me that the loss she is experiencing is very, very real," the church worker said. "She has indeed expressed remorse for making poor decisions."
The commonwealth's attorney reminded the judge that White and Thomas left the children alone while she was taking him to work. Once she returned home, she fell asleep.
The commonwealth's attorney said it was no surprise that Noah went to play outside, given the filthy conditions of the home. Authorities had to use masks while they were inside the home during the search.
He added that White told investigators that she had seen Noah playing near the septic tank and had even scolded him at one point when she found him standing on the lid.
At the time of the search, Noah's toys were found both near and inside the septic tank.
The commonwealth's attorney had one last thing to say.
"It's almost unthinkable, unspeakable."
Ashley White will be sentenced Tuesday.
White was convicted of three counts of child abuse and neglect after her son, Noah Thomas, was found dead in a septic tank.
Sentencing is expected to begin at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday.
White's boyfriend, Paul Thomas, was sentenced to 15 months in jail and was released from prison in May.
WDBJ7 has a crew in the courtroom. Check back soon for more updates.