A lack of physical evidence prompted a prosecutor to strike a deal yesterday with a Westerville day-care operator accused of drugging children with allergy medication to make them drowsy.
Tammy E. Eppley, 38, of Fairdale Avenue, was fined $250 after entering an Alford plea to one misdemeanor count of child-endangering in Franklin County Municipal Court.
In an Alford plea, a defendant doesn’t admit guilt but concedes that prosecutors have sufficient evidence to obtain a conviction.
In addition to the fine, Judge Mark A. Hummer sentenced Eppley to 180 days in jail but suspended the time as long as she stays out of trouble and does not operate a day-care center for the next two years.
The sentence was recommended by the prosecution and defense.
Eppley declined to make a statement in court. She originally was charged in June with six misdemeanor counts involving six different children, including her 2-year-old daughter, but five counts were dismissed as part of the plea agreement.
Westerville police said she bragged to a friend about using Benadryl, an antihistamine allergy medication, and melatonin, a hormone often marketed as a sleep aid, to make children easier to control while in her care at Caterpillar Clubhouse, which she ran out of her home.
Investigators said that she mixed the sleep-inducing ingredients into the batter for cupcakes and other snacks she fed to the children, all of whom were 5 or younger. None of the children required medical treatment.
Eppley told investigators that she was merely joking about medicating the children, Westerville prosecutor Michael Fultz said.
“It’s essentially a poisoning case, and you’d like to see blood tests or urine tests to confirm it, but there’s none of that,” he said.
Defense attorney R. Clayton Lopez said the prosecution’s case was based entirely on texts his client sent to a former friend.
Eppley decided to take a deal because she could have been sentenced to three years in jail if she had gone to trial and been convicted on all counts, he said.
Franklin County Children Services investigated the allegations but took no action regarding Eppley’s daughter.