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New Mexico day care workers' convictions reversed in 2017 death of toddler inside hot car

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — The New Mexico Supreme Court on Thursday granted a new trial for two day care workers in the 2017 death of a 1-year-old girl left in a hot car and the serious injury of another toddler.

The high court said in a news release that it reversed the child abuse convictions of Mary Taylor and her adult daughter Sandi Taylor after it found that the jury was given a set of confusing instructions at their joint trial in 2019.

Attorneys listed in court records for the mother and daughter did not immediately respond to emailed requests for comment.

The Taylors, both of Portales, New Mexico, operated a licensed day care center in their home. Each was sentenced to 36 years in prison for reckless child abuse but were released from custody in 2020 as they appealed their convictions.

In July 2017, the Taylors drove a group of children to a nearby park for lunch and playtime. Two of the children, both girls younger than 2, were left in the hot car for nearly three hours, authorities said.

The high temperature in Clovis near Portales was 95 degrees Fahrenheit (35 degrees Celsius) that day.

One of the girls died the same day at a hospital. The other survived but was expected to face lifelong physical challenges.

At trial, according to the high court's decision, the jury had been provided with an “and/or” list of factors to consider, including whether the day care workers had failed to do a proper headcount, whether they drove the children without prior permission from the state's child protective services agency, “and/or” whether they failed to remove the girls from the car.

The high court said the list, in that format, "provided for alternative ways for the jury to find that the defendants committed child abuse" without requiring the jury to unanimously agree on the conduct that led to a guilty verdict.